A number of issues have scattered rocks on the road to construction of the Education Corridor. Charges of poor planning, mismanagement of public property and a conflict of interest have degraded its very foundation.
Dick Phenneger, business analyst and candidate for trustee of NIC, expressed in an interview his concern about the apparent lack of a business or financial plan in the Corridor’s master plan.
The plan, presented July 11 in a public forum, left a poor impression on three of those that attended.
“I went right home and downloaded the presentation to see if I had missed something,” Phenneger said.
The real-estate investor and self proclaimed government watchdog, Larry Spencer, told the Coeur d’Alene Press, “I think a lot of questions were left unanswered. The study was predestined and the results were skewed.”
Phenneger has been a business analyst for 30 years and said he believes the study is incomplete. Phenneger said he is definitely not opposed to the advancement of education, but the board of trustees needs to come to the table with all the facts and studies before they start discussing millions of dollars in funding.
“It’s serious because you’re playing with the lives of students and tax dollars,” said Phenneger in response to the increase in property taxes and raise in tuition proposed in the master plan.
Marshall Chesrown, CEO of Black Rock Development and holder of a purchase contract for the DeArmond mill site, future home of the expansion, said he is in favor of the Education Corridor although it may not be the most economical option.
The high-dollar amount and alleged lack of planning have not been the only things lighting up the headlines and local blogs. A debate has sprung from a projected lease of 2.5 of the 17 acres that make up the mill site to the University of Idaho.
Chesrown has offered the mill site to NIC for a flat $10 million, $3.2 million under the appraised value, as a contribution to higher education in Northern Idaho. According to the master plan 2.5 acres may be leased to the U.I. for $1.3 million for a term of 99 years with the option to renew for 99 more years at no additional cost.
An annual lease payment of $13,000 is a good deal, Phenneger said. “The U of I lease is not profitable.”
With the land valued at roughly $588,235 an acre, the proposed lease has led to a conflict over its lucrative viability.
Arguments over profit margins and alleged poor planning are taking a back burner to the new fissure forming in the debate over the Corridor. An accusation has been thrown at incumbent trustee Judy Meyer over her involvement in a possible “conflict of interest.”
Suspicion arose after Phenneger filed a petition of candidacy for Meyer’s seat on the board. On Sept. 2 the petition claimed the conflict occurred when Ed Morse of Morse & Company was hired by the college to appraise the DeArmond mill-site property.
Meyer’s husband Steve and Morse have been long time partners in the Ironwood office park LLC, Phenneger said.
“A trustee should never allow a conflict of interest as serious as this to occur,” Phenneger said.
“I see no connection,” Judy Meyer responded. “I do business with a lot of people around town.”
Phenneger asserts that NIC’s policy 3.02.15 clearly states that “Where a conflict of interest or the potential for a conflict of interest is found to exist, no public officer shall take any official action, make any formal decision, or make any recommendation for action or decision-making. The effect of this policy shall extend to any family members of any public officer.”
Meyer responded vigorously in a letter drawn up by attorney Scott W. Reed stating that charge of conflict of interest by Phenneger was totally and absolutely without any factual or legal foundation. She also interjects to her defense that there was no involvement by the board in the dissension.
Rolly Jurgens, vice president of Administrative Services, and attorney Marc Lyons were given the job of finding an appraiser.
“There was no vote taken by the board,” Meyer said. “The board was informed of their decision.” “I see no ethical connection”
“The board is supposed to set the standard for ethics for the students of NIC,” Phenneger said “their procedures should be squeaky clean.”
For NIC policy, visit www.nic.edu/policy/ and for master plan visit www.nic.edu/board/