Is College involved in a Political ploy or does it have a peculiar obsession with summer survey?
As Election Day for Yavapai Community College Governing Board candidates nears, critical eyebrows are being raised in some quarters about the actions of the Community College. Critics ask: “Is the College using the feeble results of a summer survey to disguise a political campaign designed to return College Administrator favorites, Herold Harrington and Dale Fitzner, to the Governing Board? If that is not the College’s purpose, does its behavior in the last two months suggest it has become peculiarly obsessed with the survey?
Arizona law, AZ 15-1408, prevents a College from spending or using resources of any kind to influence the outcome of an election. However, a College is allowed to report “on official actions of the governing board.” That exception, say critics, was seized upon by the College to disguise its campaign for candidates Harrington and Fitzner.
The critics point to the following series of events occurring in the last two months to support their view.
1. On September 30, President Penelope Wills hosted a radio show on KYCA in Prescott. Only candidates Harrington and Fitzner appeared during a 15 minute segment devoted to the summer survey. Sounding like the leader of a political party endorsing two of its members, Wills gushed and cooed about the Governing Board during the survey segment of the program. She said: “We have a fantastic District Governing Board.” “I couldn’t ask for a better board.” “[W]hat a good job they are doing.” Could political candidates ask for a better endorsement from the president of the College and finer media exposure? Critics believe Harrington and Fitzner were put on the radio program to advance their political campaigns in the face of real opposition.
2. In September, the College used its publications unit to create an expensive four page four-color pamphlet with the photos of the four candidates now on the Board (two are running unopposed) plus the Chairman. Photos of the candidates are prominently displayed on the first page with their names. It was titled, “2014 Survey Report.” The pamphlet resembles what critics see as a political handout with copy about the feeble survey used as cover. Critics claim the pamphlet’s political purpose is to get Harrington’s and Fitzner’s names and photos conspicuously before the voters and show implicit College and resident approval of their Board work in the pamphlet copy.
3. On October 15 College Vice President Clint Ewell and candidate Harrington appeared together at the Camp Verde Town Council for a slide show presentation of the survey. Candidate Harrington introduced Ewell to the Town Council. After Ewell presented the slide show applauding the survey, candidate Harrington took questions. Critics claim this demonstrates that the College is using one of its highest paid employees and the summer survey to promote Harrington’s candidacy before local political leaders.
4. On October 23 critics claim another College Vice President, Stuart Blacklaw, was on the campaign trail for Harrington and Fitzner. He spoke at the Clarkdale-Verde Kiwanis meeting early that morning where his prepared topic was the summer survey. He also handed out copies of the expensive four-color brochure and a second document that essentially restated the material in the brochure. According to Blacklaw, his next scheduled speech that day was at noon before the Prescott Kiwanis Club. Critics argue that this behavior leaves little doubt about the College’s intentions: It is using its highest ranking administrators and the survey as cover to influence the outcome of the election.
If challenged, the College will no doubt aggressively insist it is just sharing some of the information about the results of the summer survey. Critics will counter that the College has motive, means and opportunity for using its staff and resources to try and affect the outcome of the November election.
So who is right? Have the critics found a pattern of behavior that supports their view? Or, is the College’s behavior explained by a peculiar obsession with the meagre results of a summer’s survey?