The Garden City Community College Board of Trustees fielded community comments, took in new concerns from the Faculty Senate and approved an engagement letter for Kansas City lawyer Greg Goheen at their meeting Tuesday, the latter of which officially kicked off an investigation into allegations made against GCCC President Herbert Swender.
On May 8, the Faculty Senate submitted a report calling for Swender’s termination on the grounds of an alleged history of bullying, intimidating, sexually harassing and retaliating against employees. Last week, the board announced their intent to retain Goheen, a Kansas City attorney and shareholder with McAnany, Van Cleave & Phillips P.A., to investigate claims made in the report.
Community members Joel Erskin, Toni Douglass and Zach Worf were among those who spoke to the board during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Erskin spoke first, asserting that there were community members who stood in support of Swender and his administration.
He referenced a petition in support of Swender he began circulating in May, accusing The Garden City Telegram of “weaponizing” the information. Erskin used Facebook Messenger as one of his means to circulate the petition, and communication issues led to him adding names of people who did not knowingly agree to be included. After The Telegram tried to confirm signatures, he said that someone threatened to sue him for allegedly forging signatures.
Erskin claimed that the college belonged to Finney County taxpayers and that those Erskin had heard from appreciated the work the administration and coaches were doing. He referred to the issues discussed in the Faculty Senate report as "first world problems" and that he wanted the board, instead of Goheen, to take control.
Referring to those who had spoken against Swender and the board, some of which he pointed out during his comments, Erskin said: “This is our school. We don’t want you here.”
During his comments, GCCC Attorney Randy Grisell reminded Erskin to be civil and refrain from personal attacks.
As Erskin walked back to his seat, Toni Douglass called him a felon, a comment that sent Erskin to the table of board members saying she had made a derogatory comment towards him and demanded she be thrown out of the room and arrested. When Mark Douglass, Toni’s husband, said he had not heard anything, Erskin bent over, stuck his finger in Mark Douglass' face and said, “You heard her, too, you little prick.”
After the outburst, Grisell asked a GCCC police officer to escort Erskin out of the room.
Toni Douglass and Zach Worf both asked the board questions regarding recent events and new alleged information. Worf asked the board why Swender was able to hire new employees into permanent or interim positions while he was under investigation, accused GCCC Vice President of Administrative Services Emily Clouse of violating FERPA and asked the board to hold a financial audit of all accounting.
Toni Douglass asked why Athletic Director John Green still held his title after his actions brought down sanctions on the college’s volleyball program recenlty. She also asked why the board had not investigated a video that possibly used a GC3 Media stream of GCCC’s 2018 graduation to accuse Trustee Leonard Hitz of sexual harassment, saying the footage was private and used to make “slanderous” claims.
The board thanked both speakers without addressing the questions.
Board of Trustees Chair Steve Martinez, Vice Chair Terri Worf and trustees Blake Wasinger and Merilyn Douglass said they did not have any answers to Toni Douglass and Zach Worf’s questions. Martinez and Wasinger said they would look into the claims, and Martinez said he wanted to make sure he was following relevant rules and regulations.
Terri Worf said she took issue with questions being asked in the public comment section at all, saying it was a violation of board rules.
“If you want to make a comment, a question is not a comment. So, don’t intentionally be obtuse. Be adult. But they can certainly contact us. We have phone numbers … They can have a conversation with us. Absolutely, I welcome that,” she said.
Swender also responded to the comments.
“It’s always good to have opportunities for people to speak … I don’t know what all the questions were but, no, I think it would be good for the board to review,” Swender said.
During the Faculty Senate report, Faculty Senate President Phil Hoke presented the board with a five-page document describing new concerns from senate members. Faculty member Holly Chandler said the senate met for a special meeting on May 29, during which they discussed the contents of what they would present to the board at the June meeting in regular and closed sessions. She said she is not on the senate but attended the meeting. The packet also includes concerns about a public statement from Swender and information in the June trustees meeting packet, which were only available after the May 29 meeting. Chandler said the packet spoke for all members of the Faculty Senate.
The latest report claims the college is not complying with criteria from the Higher Learning Commission regarding faculty involvement and ethical behavior, which may cause the college to remain on probation after the commission evaluates the campus this and next year.
It refutes comments made by Swender in a recent public statement, calling the claims in the Faculty Senate report those of a “vocal few.” The Faculty Senate asserts in their latest report that their May report represents the views or experiences of a “conservative estimate” of more than 70 percent of faculty.
In the newest report, the Faculty Senate thanks the board for hiring Goheen to investigate the allegations, but has questions regarding the transparency of the board and alleged bias of Trustees Wasinger, Crist and Worf. The senate requested a copy of Goheen's engagement letter, which was not included in public meeting materials, and a timeline of the investigation.
Martinez and Wasinger said they would read and consider the Faculty Senate’s latest list of concerns.
The board also accepted and approved an engagement letter to retain Goheen.
According to the engagement letter, Goheen will charge his hourly rate of $260, along with $185 an hour for any associates and $130 an hour for paralegals and runners. Goheen’s letter said all rates will increase annually by $10 per should the investigation take longer than a year. Other expenses, such as filing, court reporter and document reproduction fees will be listed in monthly itemized reports to the college. The college also will pay for any necessary travel or mileage charges, such as Goheen’s expected, eventual trip to Garden City, at the IRS allowable rate, according to the letter.
All payments regarding Goheen’s services will be paid through the college’s general fund. Grisell said he was unsure how many hours Goheen would work a week or how many associates, paralegals or runners would be involved in the investigation.
Grisell said he was unsure why Goheen’s letter was not included in the public meeting materials.
The board also approved the 2018 Monitoring Report, a breakdown of limits on the president’s compensation and benefits terms that briefly mentions a renewal of Swender’s contract. Grisell said Swender essentially has a three-year rolling contract. Swender signed a three-year contract in 2012, which automatically adds a year each April, unless the board decides not to.
Martinez confirmed at the request of Hitz that the report was not an approval to renew Swender’s contract. When Hitz asked if there would be an opportunity to review the contract in the future, Martinez said he hoped the board would be able to do so after Goheen’s investigation.
The board approved the hire of Vice President of Business Affairs and CFO Glendon Forgey, who began work on June 1. The board also approved revisions to Forgey’s job description, giving him authorization to sign college checks and naming him college treasurer and an alternate designated agent for KPERS. Forgey’s salary was not listed in meeting materials.
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Holly Chandler as a member of the Faculty Senate. She is a faculty member, but not on the senate.