8 candidates vie for JCCC posts, KC Star

8 candidates vie for JCCC posts

The departure of the school’s president has sparked unusual interest in board races this year.
Kansas City Star, The (MO)-February 20, 2007
Author: MELODEE HALL BLOBAUM, The Kansas City Star

Community college trustee races are rarely the marquee match-ups in spring elections.

But this year’s race for three spots on the Johnson County Community College board of trustees attracted eight candidates, triggering a countywide primary for the first time in a decade.

Two of the candidates will be eliminated by voters next Tuesday.

The school was rocked in April by the abrupt departure of Charles Carlsen, the longtime president, after the campus newspaper published allegations that he had sexually harassed a female employee in 2003. He denied the allegations but called for an independent investigation of the matter.

The price tag for the investigation and an inconclusive 12-page report resulting from it drew criticism from staff and faculty as well as some taxpayers. Some people were also upset by the trustees decision to continue with a search for a permanent replacement for Carlsen after faculty and staff had asked that the process be delayed until the campus had time to heal.

The faculty association tried unsuccessfully to get the board to censure trustee Ben Hodge, who is not up for re-election, for his exchanges with faculty during board meetings in the months after Carlsen’s departure. The association was joined by staff at the school in a vote of no confidence in trustee Elaine Perilla, who decided not to run for re-election.

Perilla’s decision means that at least one new trustee will join the six-member board in July.

Despite the dust-ups of the past year, the school’s faculty association endorsed the race’s two incumbents — Lynn Mitchelson and Jon Stewart — and newcomer Don Weiss in the race.

Both incumbents point to the college’s sterling national reputation and their desire to polish it as reasons for wishing to continue on the board.

“I really care about the college,” Stewart said. “It’s made a difference in my life. Being able to go there put me on a path to some success. I have no higher political aspirations.”

Mitchelson said he would like to help the new president get off to an effective start in the community.

Two other candidates — Dwight Sutherland and David S. Nelson — also praised the school’s reputation, though they reserved judgment on recent events at the school.

“It’s grown and become sort of a public square, a forum for civic events and cultural events,” Sutherland said.

But in a candidate questionnaire, Sutherland wrote that he thought the events surrounding Carlsen’s departure showed a need to open up the governance of the school to a broader circle.

In announcing his candidacy, Nelson described the school as one of the county’s strongest assets and said his main issue was accountability.

“It’s the job of the board to protect that asset,” Nelson said. “Last year, they got a little caught up in protecting staff members and board members, and that’s what motivated me to run.”

Three other candidates — Peter A. Sam, Joshua Seiden and Weiss — also said they were prompted to run by the events surrounding Carlsen’s departure.

Sam said he was concerned by a lack of leadership and a lack of focus on the mission of the college.

Weiss criticized the cost of the investigation and the board’s seeming lack of a notion of what to do with the results once the investigation was completed.

Seiden was a student at the school and editor of The Campus Ledger in the fall 2005 and early 2006, until he resigned.

“It was a consistent theme of things I was seeing at JCCC,” he said. “Students don’t always come first. It’s inherently important that we have candidates who have a student’s perspective.”

One other candidate also brings a student perspective: Lorianne Fisher Koneczny, who is a student at the school.

She would like to foster a team approach to policymaking at the school and sees a need for trustees to be more attentive to faculty concerns.

Meet the candidates

Johnson County Community College and the League of Women Voters will present a candidate forum from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. today in the Polsky Theatre on the campus, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park. The forum will be shown live on the college’s cable TV channel, 17 on Time Warner and 22 on Comcast; video of the forum will be available on the Web at http://video.jccc.edu.

To reach Melodee Hall Blobaum, call (816) 234-7733 or send e-mail to mblobaum@kcstar.com.

Section: News
Page: B5

Record Number: 2096228
Copyright 2007 The Kansas City Star Co.