Tonight in the MCC cafeteria, round tables were surrounded with educators, community leaders and just plain folks with an interest in the community college.
The purpose was the first meeting of the “MAP-Engaging the Community to Chart Our Course” process.
Led by McHenry County Community Foundation President/ CEO Director Kate Halma, it was the first pubic step of a Unicom-ARC designed attempt to mobilize support for the college.
“How wonderful for us as community members to be asked our opinion,” she said.
Participants were warned in a slide that the
“meetings will not be conducive to the format of an open forum or debate, meetings are work sessions that allow for the free exchange of ideas and data collection.”
I am sure someone familiar with this process will let me know what it is called. [From a comment posted below: "...that meeting looks like a classic application of the Delphi Technique. http://www.iror.org/delphi.asp and http://www.illinoisloop.org/committees.html (scroll down about 2/3)."]
“You don’t have to have the answers. You get to ask the questions.”
Interpretation will be left to a “facilitating team,” consisting of the following:
- Dave Barber
- Pedro Enriquez
- Kate Halma
- Linda Liddell
- Lauri Olson
- Steve Weskrena
- Joe Williams
- Beverly Dow
- Kathleen Plinske
- Brian Seger
- Pat Stejskal
- Claudia Terrones
MCC Board of Trustees
But back to Unicom-ARC for a moment. It looks like the firm is being paid $137,750 for the job.
My prediction is that this is all part of a 2010 primary election tax hike or referendum campaign. I hope I am proved wrong. I hope it’s just to improve the college’s damaged public relations.
Take a look at the time line and draw your own conclusion.
After the minor league baseball stadium debacle in which the board withheld crucial decision-making information from the public until Crystal Lake citizens were gathered with torches and pitchforks, there is no doubt that the institutional image need refurbishing.
The St. Louis firm hired specializes in preparing the way for tax hikes and passage of bond referendums. Local school districts for which Unicom-ARC has “delivered” include Carpentersville District 300 and Woodstock District 200.
The MCC Board might not have had tax hikes as its goal in hiring Unicom-ARC, but, given the secrecy with which the college pursues major goals concerning money, there is no way to be sure. (The picture of the tower is from near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and is way, way shorter than the 1500 foot tower contemplated. It is, however, a free standing tower such is planned.)
Let me digress a bit about more recent secrecy. Although the trustees first discussed leasing/selling the land to BMB Communications Management for the broadcast tower at the end of February, 2008, it made nothing public until early-February, 2009. Although the contract has been signed, there is no evidence of due diligence having been conducted concerning the sale other than a last-minute report from the college’s risk management firm.
From state records, we know that the college has said it will pry $7.1 million out of taxpayer pockets in order to obtain state matching funds. That may have been reduced by the pending sale of the land on which the 1,500 foot BMB Communications Management broadcast tower will be built.
Anyway, the first MAP community engagement meeting was held last night. I don’t know how many of the targeted community influentials attended. There was a preliminary list and a supplementary one.
There was a long introduction about what the group was expected to do by Halma and a “here’s where the college is and has been over the last ten years” by Acting President Brian Sager.
I found most interesting the declining appeal of the college to those aged 25 through 55.
Look at the chart and you will see something is happening. Maybe it mirrors population changes, one of six questions I left in writing for which I’m sure I’ll get an answer because others noticed the same seeming anomaly.
During the discussion period, the first table spokesperson, The Town Crier‘s Iris Bryan, with whom I worked on publicity for the passage of the April 1, 1977, referendum to create the college, came up with the best line:
“What is it you don’t want to hear?”
Stew Cohen, another member of the media (Star 105.5) said his group wondered “if older students’ needs were being met?”
A group at a back table described as being full of educators wondered why the real estate tax is such a high percentage of the college budget.
That’s a question I can answer.
The college referendum committee told the voters that one-third of the money would come from local taxpayers, one-third from the state taxpayers and one-third from the students.
The state, it was soon discovered, lied. Now only 8% comes from state coffers.
The students are not holding up the share that voters were promised they would, but they are close at 29%.
Property taxpayers pay 60%–almost twice what was promised.
The next two-hour meeting is April 21st. It starts at 6:30. The question scheduled to be discussed is
“How will MCC enhance community engagement to better understand and respond to local educational, social, cultural and economic needs?”
It seems to me the person (probably a committee) deserves an incomplete for the question.
Explicitly included should be something about governance.
While there was all sorts of “happy talk” about how the MCC Board wants to hear what the citizens think, the trustees have a record of not listening to citizens.
Indeed, if you are one of the very few who attend meetings and say something in the three minutes allowed, what you say is not even recorded in the minutes. Not even the subject you discuss.
Here’s what’s in the board minutes for the February 26, 2008, meeting for public comment:
“OPEN FOR RECOGNITION OF VISITORS AND PRESENTATIONS
“Mr. Eric Snave, Mrs. Julie Snave, Mr. Phil Snave, Ms. Berghaus, and Ms. Ritter addressed the Board.”
Wouldn’t you like to know what three members of the same family thought important enough to say to the board?
This board-directed record keeping shows such a disregard for the views of the public. There is no reason even to record the subject matter of those who spoke. It’s just not important.
My experience is that government keeps a record of everything it thinks is important.
So, you can see, I think the board has a long, long way to go if it wishes to
“enhance community engagement,”
as the April 21st meeting topic professes.
And, I might as well add another existing roadblock to this stated goal.
The board refuses to tape record its meetings and make them available on the internet (or even for purchase).
Even though the board has found the money to put upcoming MAP meetings on the internet.
I can’t pull up the exact quote of one of the trustees, but it was to the effect that if people wanted to know what the board was doing, they could attend the meetings.
As if most people had nothing better to do than spend the third Monday and Thursday evenings of every month sitting in the MCC board room.
I guess these MAP meetings are more important that board meeting’s where $37-some million are spent each year.
I willingly admit that the board does at least one thing right, although not consistently. It posts the contents of the board packets on the internet. They are supposed to be there two days ahead of time. Usually they make it by the day of the meeting, if the two-day deadline is missed.
So, that’s a good thing.
I am willing to spend 7-10 nights in these little round tables in the hope that the board may actually figure out that some common sense changes need to be made if its not so hot current reputation is to be improved.
= = = = =
The photograph at the top is of Kate Halma and Brian Sager. Sager is also seen in front of the screen stating the topic of the next meeting. Various shots of those attending are sprinkled throughout the article.