At Thursday night’s meeting, the hottest topic was McHenry County College President Vicky Smith’s assertion that pretty much all questions about the college from Trustees had to go through her.
She cited language in her contract that said she was the “conduit.”
The specific language is
“The Board acknowledges that the President is the preferred conduit through which all internal constituencies of the College communicates with the Board and the preferred conduit through which the Board communicates to those internal constituencies.”
It wasn’t until “Member Comments” that Board President Ron Parrish broached the subject.
“We need some clarification with respect to communications between the Trustees and the staff and faculty.”
He asked if there were any guidelines.
“The protocol of the Board has been whenever [there are questions] that the Trustees ask the President of the institution,” Smith replied.
“It’s been the protocol at all the institutions I’ve worked at.
“The conduit is through the President.
“That doesn’t mean that a Trustee can’t stop and talk about general things before the college or the Board,” she continued.
“In fact, I’ve talked to attorneys about that.”
“The President’s office also knows the workflow, former President Mary Miller pointed out.
“We could be interrupting something they’ve been working on.
“I filter it through Vicky…I think that’s the route it should go.
Cynthia Kisser was next.
“I email Dr. Smith and carbon Ms. Kriegermeier, if I just want expedited notes from my last meeting, so Dr. Smith immediately knows what I want.
“I do the same thing if I want something from another staff member.
“I’m sending maybe two or three a day.
“I think it’s better to overload you, [rather than] making [staff members] think they may have to drop everything because [I call].”
“I do like it’s one control place,” Linda Liddell added.
“I love than,” Molly Walsh said.
“What’s the purpose of that?” Tom Wilbeck interjected.
“I’m an elected official. If I want an objective conversation with an employee, I want to go directly.”
“I think it’s a matter of the policies and practices that the Board has established,” one of the two attorneys sitting at the front table said.
She pointed out that Smith’s contract “names her as a conduit…I do think it means a conduit both ways.”
“If looking for special information, then I email it to Dr. Smith,” repeated Kisser. “If she tells me to call [so and so], she’s not in on the telephone call.
“I don’t interpret that I can’t have a conversation.
“Just one brief example,” Wilbeck explained. “Two people today called to find out if it [the meeting] was going to be web broadcast. [I called Laura.]”
“If would have been better if you had called me because it wasn’t Laura; it was Al.”
“In the private sector it just doesn’t happen that way and it impedes communication,” was Wilbeck’s rejoinder.
“I don’t want to be restricted when I ask a quick question.”
Liddell, calling upon her private enterprise experience, said, “The difference is that we are the Board of Directors.”
She explained that in business communications from directors “went to the chairman.”
Wilbeck still was disturbed at the effect the President would impose by passing on his questions.
“We are not administrators,” Kisser stressed.
“When I was CEO of a not-profit, I ran that non-profit. I constantly want to do that [here, but] it’s a different role.
“If you want to find out about web streaming [maybe there are] others who want to know.
“This has been a learning experience for me, too. I found it frustrating.
“When you see the information has already come together in Ms. Smith’s head, you find out [the answer. Calling staff members] just gets [out of hand].
“Let me give you my perspective,” Parrish said.
“Frankly, I object to his.”
Both Liddell and Kisser tried to talk, but Parrish said, “Please, may I talk?
“One of the things we’ve [he and Smith] been able to do is meet on a weekly basis.
“I have two concerns.
“First, the President of the college has a lot of things on her plate. We can get those answers personally.”
“Second,” looking at the staff at the table, “You people are our friends. I have a responsibility for the continuing growth of the college and I can’t do that with[out communicating]. I do not want you my friends to be inhibited.
“I really believe it’s our responsibility to maybe talk about an approach that would provide a little more openness and get back to you with a difference proposal.”
“The way we’ve been doing things has worked well over the last ten years,” former Board President Miller said. She reminded her colleagues it was in Dr. Smith’s contract.
“We need to wait for our Board retreat.”
“You object to my talking to Vicky?” Parrish asked rhetorically.
“I don’t think so.
“It means ignoring the public angst.
“The recent problems of communications, misconceptions, accusations we’ve had in the past year can be resolved with better communication,” Parrish concluded before moving to comments of other Trustees.