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How to fill a WCC Board of Trustees vacancy

If you would like a really good demonstration of how the WCC Board of Trustees works, please take time to view the video from the January 3, 2023 Special Meeting. At the December 2022 Board of Trustees Meeting, former Trustee Richard Landau announced his resignation, effective January 1. If this is the first you’re hearing of a vacancy on the WCC Board of Trustees, you would not be alone.

According to the WCC Trustee by-laws:

“Governing Body. The governing body of the Community College District shall be the Board of Trustees. Membership on the Board of Trustees shall be determined in accordance with the Community College Act of 1966, as amended (MCL 389.1 et seq.) Any vacancy occurring in the membership of the Board shall be immediately filled through appointment by the majority of the Board with a legally qualified voter who shall serve until the next regular Board election, at which time the vacancy shall be filled by election for the remainder of the term.

When a vacancy occurs, the Board Chair shall publicly announce the vacancy using electronic media including, but not limited to, the College’s website. Any qualified person who wishes to be considered for Board membership must submit a letter and a resume to the Board Chair through the College’s website within the time frame indicated on the vacancy announcement. The applicant must also provide evidence of eligibility.

The Board shall not be restricted to consideration of those submitting an application in filling such a vacancy.”

How to limit the candidates for a WCC Board of Trustees vacancy

The College posted the notice of the vacancy on its website, but not in the “News” section, where it might get noticed. It also did not issue a press release seeking applications for the open position. The College did, however, manage to issue a press release regarding the 7-0 vote to extend Rose Bellanca’s contract last fall. (Only one of these two events actually deserved a press release.) Instead, WCC posted the notice on the “About” section of the Board of Trustees page, where I’m sure it received the appropriate (and expected) level of attention from the public.

So, the Board met on January 3 to fill this vacancy. Two candidates applied for the position: Alex Milshteyn, a local real estate agent, who served on the WTMC Board and was previously nominated to fill a Board vacancy, and David Malcolm, a WCC employee (also a local real estate agent) who ran for election to the Board in November and lost by a slim 300 votes. Dianna McKnight Morton stumbled badly through her nomination of Alex Milshteyn. Ruth Hatcher nominated David Malcolm, mostly as a courtesy to Malcolm. DeVarti seconded Hatcher’s nomination, mostly as a courtesy to Hatcher, I think.

From the moment the meeting started, the Board members clearly telegraphed their collective choice. Board Chair Bill Milliken left no time for discussion of the two candidates who submitted their resumes. He clearly did not plan to entertain any until Trustee David DeVarti insisted on it. The language the Board members used revealed that Milshteyn’s appointment to the Board was a given.

The Board of Trustees is a closed club

Trustee Ruth Hatcher used the narrow window of opportunity to lambaste the Board for the lack of publicity regarding the Board vacancy. She admitted, curiously, that she agreed to the process, so she was partly to blame. Honestly, it would not have made a difference. Had she voted against it, the rest of the board would have outvoted her anyway.

In her remarks, Trustee Hatcher indicated her disappointment that Richard Landau waited until after the November election to announce his resignation. Holding onto the seat until the danger of voter involvement has passed demonstrates what a “closed club” the WCC Board of Trustees is.

It’s an interesting comment. A similar thing happened (twice as a matter of fact) at St. Clair County Community College. In the most recent instance (last month) the resigning trustee sought re-election to the Board in November, then resigned after the election.

According to Trustee Hatcher, she received the resumes of the two candidates the morning of January 3. She lamented the lack of opportunity to interview the candidates and to take time to consider the Board’s options.

The voters’ voices are silenced again

So, I want to point out that in the General Election, 53,966 voters in Washtenaw County cast their votes for David Malcolm. That statement by the voters had no bearing whatsoever on the deliberations of the WCC Board of Trustees. The Trustees don’t want (or care) what the voters want; they want a reliable “yes” vote on the Board. And they will use the back door to get what they want. In her remarks, Trustee Hatcher said as much:

“…Dave has worked for WCC for a very long time. He did run this time, so it’s clear that he wanted to be on the Board, although the Board may not want another person on the Board who actually worked at the College. He knew every office, and of course, Milshteyn has served the College at WTMC and at the Foundation, and none of my comments should reflect on either one of them.”

With all due respect, this is not about who the Board wants on the Board. This is about who the 53,966 voters who endorsed one of these two candidates in November want on the Board. The voters spoke loudly and clearly, but apparently, not clearly enough for the tone-deaf WCC Board of Trustees. I also want to point out that Alex Milshteyn didn’t even attend the Board Meeting to confirm his appointment to the Board.

Going in through the back door

Following Trustee Hatcher’s commentary regarding the process for filling a trustee vacancy, the exchange with Chair Bill Milliken revealed this:

Trustee Hatcher: “I’m sure that we followed the law, but I wish we had been a little more deliberate about letting the public know that this was an open opportunity, but I think it won’t make any difference. I just thought I would express my disappointment in our procedure.”

Trustee Bill Milliken:“Thank you for airing that. Duly noted, and the record will reflect that, so if another occasion like this comes up, we’ll have as open and uh…”

Trustee Hatcher:“I’ll know what to do next time.”

Here’s what I want you to watch for. At no time between now and the next vacancy will any member of the Board of Trustees act to modify the process by which the Board announces and publicizes vacancies, or define/clarify what “immediate” means in terms of filling a board vacancy. The Board gives lip service to changing the process, but they will do nothing to change it. The next vacancy (outside of term expirations) – and I kind of think there will be one – will go through the same secretive process that this one did, and the outcome of that process will be pre-determined long before the Board receives its first resume.

This is a shining example of how the WCC Board of Trustees disrespects the voters of Washtenaw County. Think about this the next time one of these clowns asks you for your vote.

Photo Credit: Gerry Dincher, via Flickr