The Cowley College Board of Trustees raised a lot of questions earlier this week when they appointed Nancy Burger, of Winfield, to fill Sid Regnier’s vacant seat in a unanimous vote on Dec. 11.
While Burger has a background in K-12 education, which might qualify her for the position, the public couldn’t have known this because the Board came to its unanimous decision with no public discussion and without any public interviews of either Burger or the other applicant, Michael Bergagnini.
This raises questions as to how this decision was made.
The application submitted by Burger did not specify her background working in education, other than to mention briefly that she had a background in education. No details were given.
She did mention in her application that she spoke to board chair Bob Juden about what the position entailed before submitting the application.
Interviews of potential trustees do not fall under Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) exceptions, meaning any interviews by a majority of the Board legally should have taken place in an open meeting.
So how did the Board come to a unanimous decision without any public discussion or interviews, especially when the one trustee Burger said she spoke to didn’t attend the meeting due to illness?
How did the Board decide she was the best candidate for the position when her application didn’t even detail her history of working in education?
The question that comes not only to our minds, but also to those of many of our readers, is whether or not discussions about this vacancy occurred outside of the public eye?
If so, it wouldn’t be the first time the Board of Trustees violated KOMA — Daily Bytes reported on just such a violation in May 2016.
Ironically, this violation happened when the trustees illegally appointed Jill Long to fill the remainder of Jim Ramirez’s seat by secret ballot. They were ordered by the county attorney to re-conduct the vote publicly in order for it to be valid.
Another issue: The other applicant for Regnier’s vacancy, Michael Bergagnini, was the fifth-highest vote-getter in November’s election, receiving more than 1,100 votes.
And while there is no law requiring the Board to fill a vacancy with the next highest vote-getter, college spokespersons indicated earlier this year that the trustees were waiting for the Nov. 7 election before filling the seat.
But if they were not going to listen to the voices of the people, what other possible reason was there to leave the seat vacant for nine months?
Other questions were raised when a possible financial connection came to light. Burger’s mother, Marjorie Short, donated 18 acres to the college for the Sumner County campus last year.
It begs an obvious question: Was Burger given the seat because of the generosity of her family?
Unfortunately, regardless of whether the Board’s intentions were pure, this appointment and the way the decision was conducted — the action was not even advertised on the Board’s agenda — recall to mind an old-style spoils system or “crony” politics.
It’s possible Burger truly was the best candidate, but we have no way of knowing that because the merits of both candidates were never discussed publicly.
It’s possible Burger might be the best choice to represent Cowley County citizens, but we can’t ever really know that either, because she did not stand for election like Bergagnini did.
Ultimately, this is not about Burger and whether she was a suitable choice. This is about the six current trustees and their repeated indifference to involving the public in their most important decisions.
This is about a culture of predetermined outcomes and resisting transparency.
The most important question now becomes: Is the Cowley College Board of Trustees silencing the voice of the people in the name of campus expansion?
And if so, what are the people of Cowley County going to do about it?
Editor’s note: This is an editorial opinion column and should be read as such. For further information regarding previous situations mentioned in the article, visit www.acdailybytes.com.