Before a packed house Thursday, the Independence Community College Board of Trustees listened as several people from the audience expressed their concerns with the board on their decisions to terminate a long time instructor and the elimination of the baseball program. 

Ron Denny, Independence, asked the board if they had consulted with other community colleges that have both football and baseball programs on how they complied with Title IX and how they manage the budget. "I would hope you have done your due diligence on addressing these issues. It's difficult to defend the football program when you eliminate baseball and the data I paid attention to on budget and Title IX show there has only been an increase for staff, scholarships and players for the football team. We want to understand the due diligence that led to making this critical decision that no other college in the state is making," stated Denny. He continued to ask the board to explain how the elimination of baseball is saving money in the budget when the football budget is increasing. "What it looks like to me is you [ICC Board] have made a decision that at this college it's football or die.

It seems all the attention of the college has been focused and time spent on the football program. When I have talked to other colleges to find out how many coaches and staff they have, I discovered it isn't even close to who has the most [ICC]," concluded Denny.  

Kerry Hilbert, Oklahoma, addressed the board on how his son was recruited to play at ICC and now he is not eligible to play anywhere because the opportunity to get scholarships has already passed. "There was no thought process that went into the elimination of the baseball program. It appears to me after a meeting  someone called the coach and told him it was his last year. There was no warning," said Hilbert. According to information Hilbert shared from the National Junior College Athletic Association, the deadline for signing day was Feb. 1. "We weren't informed of the elimination of the baseball program until end of March," he said. 

"I know you guys as a board come in here and vote on things. You hire your president and you let him go. I would hope somewhere down the line you would hold his feet to the fire and he would have to show what studies he performed to get this deal done. There had to be some studies done," Hilbert said. He called on the board to release to the public all information they have on what studies were done, who was informed and when a decision was made to eliminate the baseball program. "I thought you guys [the board] had to vote on what happens to the baseball program, but it doesn't seem to be the case. It was a rash decision and you should rethink your decision to eliminate the baseball program," said Hilbert. 

An emotional group of speakers then made their voices heard to the board regarding the termination of Brenda Sanchez. She was an English instructor at ICC for the past 12 years who was terminated for alleged racial discrimination involving disperate grading of African-American students.

Brandon Berden, former ICC student, presented a petition to the board with506 signatures from people in the community in support of Sanchez and who believe the ICC board's decision was wrong. He read from a prepared statement and concluded with a summary of Sanchez' character. "She was at one time in charge of the international students. She let people of color live in her home at discounted rates for them to continue their education. She regularly allowed international and American people of color to come into her home to get help with their class work. She is not a racist. We know this and you know this. Many international people and people of color as well as more than 500 people know this to be true," he stated. He asked the board to reinstate Sanchez as a college instructor. 

During one speaker's speech, Kathy Kelly called for the resignation of all the board members; Dan Barwick, president; Kelli Tuschman, human resources; and Tammie Geldenhuys, athletic director.

After the list of speakers finished, Val DeFever, ICC board president, said, "We were given lots of information on why we would be cancelling baseball and why we terminated Brenda Sanchez. I can tell you we didn't take it lightly and at the same time we did due diligence and I am sorry it has stirred up so much unhappiness. That was never our intention. We want everything to run smoothly, I guarantee you. This is the last place any of us want to find ourselves in. We do need your input and we welcome it. We will try to get information and answers to these questions to you through the media and our website at the college," said DeFever. She continued to assure the public the college would provide information on these issues when it was made available. "Sometimes a little bit of information doesn't tell the whole story and that can be in both what the public is getting and what we are getting. We will strive to answer more questions. I don't think anything will change the decisions that were made, but I want you to know that we are receptive to your input and we want your input and thank you for coming," DeFever concluded.

Barwick added, after the meeting, regarding the baseball program, "A number of the claims that were made during those presentations, I would say there is additional opportunities students have that were not discussed. I would say the issue is far more complex, particularly from a legal perspective and students have far more opportunities than were presented. When we hope when we answer the questions that were presented to us we can flush out the answers they were seeking."   

Later on in the meeting, when Barwick was to present an update on the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) requirements progress, Hoite Caston, former ICC Trustee, came before the board to ask for more documents from the HLC that only Barwick has received. "I have been in contact with the HLC for various things and one of the things I have asked about was the 55 page summary of their findings..." Before Caston could finish speaking, he was interrupted by Barwick demanding the board immediately go into executive session. "The discussion of prior HLC documents has implications for open records and we need to discuss that right away. Presumably, we can do this without our attorney here and I would invite the board to go into executive session before you respond to that question," Barwick said. 

Barwick was asked to explain his rational for calling for an executive session. He stated, "The discussion of documents in open session has implications for open records requests and we need to proceed quite cautiously. I think the board would prefer to discuss whether they want to make those documents available to the public before automatically being required to do so." 

When asked if it was about a personnel issue, Barwick explained, "The issue is, I think some documents contain information about personnel and the board would have to make a decision about whether that personnel information should be made public. Because you are probably referring to a specific document I am not going to refer to a specific document and I can't answer that question." 

Cindy Sherwood, ICC board member, responded to Barwick's call for an executive session by questioning the grounds on which he was asking for the session. "I'm not sure it applies under any of the possible reasons for an executive session," Sherwood said.  Barwick replied, "If you don't think it does, that's fine. I would then recommend you not respond to the question from Caston at all and I would recommend you consult the board attorney regarding that matter."

Sherwood acknowledged Barwick's concern but she didn't understand them because the documents don't pertain to any negotiations, non-elected personnel, real estate or attorney-client privilege. 

"You are under no obligation to answer his question. The meeting is for the board in front of the public, but not with the public. I would simply acknowledge his question and move on," said Barwick to Sherwood. 

Caston stated, Barwick stated in open meeting there are things in that document the HLC agrees are inaccurate and there is some concern about that document. "Since it is not open for public scrutiny, we don't know if the document he showed you is the same document that was given to the college. If you have seen that document, your constituents should be allowed to see that document as well."

Jana Shaver, ICC board member, quickly informed Caston,"They [the public] are not board members." 

Caston suddenly turned and faced Shaver, reminding her, "We elect the board." 

Sherwood commented the document maybe should be made public but she wasn't sure. DeFever said they would ask the board's lawyer on whether it should be released to the public. 

The ICC regular meeting will be covered in Sunday's edition of the Reporter.