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How to manage a vacant board seat

Last month, Ypsilanti Township Trustee Jimmie Wilson, Jr., announced his resignation from the Board of Trustees. His resignation was not unexpected; Wilson won the open seat for the 32nd District of the Michigan House of Representatives. Like other publicly elected boards, the Ypsilanti Township Board of Trustees must appoint a replacement for the vacant board seat.

On the Township’s website, the Board announced the vacancy and called for applications from interested parties. The only qualification to serve the remainder of Wilson’s term are that applicants must be at least 18 years of age; registered to vote; residents of the township for at least 30 days; and US citizens.

Their public call for applicants netted 18 responses from individuals interested in serving Wilson’s remaining term. The Board of Trustees considered the applicants at their regularly scheduled meeting today.

Last month, WCC Trustee Richard Landau also announced his resignation. Instead of publicizing the vacant board seat to capture as many applicants as possible, WCC buried the announcement of the vacancy on a seldom visited web page. No well-publicized announcements, no reasonable submission period that accounted for the holidays.

When a vacant board seat isn’t really vacant

As a result, WCC got just two applicants – which is OK as far as the WCC Board is concerned. (They would have been happy with one.) After all, the WCC Board of Trustees is a closed club, and that seat was never truly vacant. The WCC Trustees don’t want someone who might not be a “team player” sitting on the Board. From the moment Landau vacated his seat, the remaining Trustees knew exactly who they were going to choose to fill it.

In the end, the WCC Board of Trustees selected the “inside candidate” – Alex Milshteyn, who was previously appointed to the board of the Washtenaw Technical Middle College and also appointed to the WCC Foundation board. Milshteyn’s appointment to the WCC Board of Trustees was a lock. He had previously run for the WCC Board of Trustees in 2014, finishing a respectable 6th out of 8 candidates in the General Election. He had also applied to fill a vacant board seat in 2015 following Trustee Pam Horizny’s resignation. (That seat ultimately went to Trustee Dilip Das.)

Failing to adequately publicize a vacant board seat during the holiday period and then holding an unnecessary special meeting to fill the vacancy amounts to a breach of the public trust. Washtenaw County voters did not elect the WCC Board of Trustees to be gatekeepers. The board is a public body and should conduct the people’s business in public. When they encounter a vacant board seat, they should conduct an above-board, public search for a replacement Trustee. But that’s apparently too much to ask from a group of people who have never really operated in the best interest of the college or the taxpayers who fund it.

Photo Credit: Peter Burka , via Flickr