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WCC Trustees Lack Conflict of Interest Policy

The WCC Board of Trustees doesn’t have a conflict of interest policy. At least not one that applies to them.

That matters because its absence opens the door for some questionable practices. For example:

  • Commercial real estate transactions: WCC Trustee William Milliken is a commercial real estate broker. It is not coincidental that the latest WCC Master Plan includes a plan (complete with basic site drawings) to place commercial buildings on what Milliken characterized as “retail outlots.”
  • Faculty contract and sabbatical decisions:As a WCC Trustee, Ruth Hatcher votes on contractual issues that affect the WCC faculty. These include pay rates, benefits, sabbatical approvals, department chair designations, etc. Trustee Hatcher’s son is a member of the WCC faculty and receives compensation based on the terms of the faculty contract that Trustee Hatcher approves. In this case, Trustee Hatcher has a clear conflict of interest because a family member clearly benefits from her actions as a Trustee. In looking at votes on the issue in 2015, 2018, and 2022, Trustee Hatcher has never abstained.
  • Related Trustees: Currently, the WCC Board of Trustees includes two related individuals (Dianna McKnight-Morton and Angela Davis) who share the same household. To be fair, the legislative requirements for community college trustees don’t prohibit this. Regardless, this situation doesn’t serve the best interests of the voters, because these two Trustees have never voted independently of each other. Their identical voting record effectively reduces the size of the Board of Trustees from 7 to 6. The trustees also do not clearly disclose this relationship.

WCC Trustees Must Address Conflicts of Interest

If you’re playing at home, that’s four conflicted WCC Trustees out of seven. There may be more conflicts, but my point is clear. The apparent conflicts of interest and the absence of policies that require both disclosure and remediation hurt the taxpayers. They also hurt the institution and create opportunities for larger abuses.

Washtenaw County taxpayers deserve to know about these conflicts of interest. WCC Trustees must disclose and acknowledge the potential for abuse. And the taxpayers deserve to know what steps the Board and the individual trustees are taking to mitigate the potential for undue influence, unjust enrichment and circumstances that limit the independence of the Trustees.

Conflict of Interest policies and disclosures are standard operating practices among higher education institutions. Although the WCC Trustees impose conflict of interest policies on WCC Administrators, they do not extend those same restrictions to themselves.

As taxpayers, we have already seen the limited oversight this board exercises. We cannot allow the institution to be overwhelmed by the interests of conflicted Trustees.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk, via Flickr