Commentary: College action an insult to entire Verde Valley

Bob Oliphant

Bob Oliphant

The decision by the three-member West County voting block on the Yavapai College District Governing Board on Monday, Sept. 13, to essentially dismantle the existing Verde Valley Board Advisory Committee was an insult to every citizen in the Verde Valley.

It was made almost in secret in the late afternoon of the Board's retreat when there were no citizens present and without placing the item on the agenda in a recognizable fashion. Unlike regular Board sessions, there was no video record of the proceeding being made.

Recall that the VVBAC is a blue ribbon volunteer committee made up of seven outstanding citizens from every corner of the Verde Valley. When it was created 21 months ago, every effort was made to avoid bias and be all inclusive. Therefore, the towns, cities, Yavapai County supervisors and the Yavapai Apache Nation prepared a careful list of possible VVBAC committee members, which was sent to Yavapai County Education Superintendent Tim Carter.

After Mr. Carter interviewed all the candidates, he made the final appointments. It was an inclusive, transparent and honest process -- a rarity in today's ugly political world. Obviously, none of this mattered to the West County Board majority.

It is stunning that no one on the Governing Board had the common courtesy to call the VVBAC Chair prior to Monday's retreat to inform him the issue of the VVBAC's future was to be discussed. No one on the Board even had the common courtesy to ask the Chair or any members of the VVBAC if the Committee's work had been concluded prior to Monday's vote.

Of course, we all know the VVBAC's work was far from done. The motive of the West County majority for not discussing the matter with the VVBAC and acting almost in secret is obvious.

Good manners, simple courtesy, and civility took a back seat Monday to the growing fear held by the West County voting block that it might lose its 50-year grip on power over the Verde Valley because of continued public disclosures.

The public was learning from an unbiased, trusted source far too much about the College's wild spending spree on buildings and the educational inequities between the East and West sides of the County.

The West County majority also must have concluded that only by dismantling the VVBAC could it continue to maintain absolute control and distribution of the tax revenue coming from the East side of the County in support of the West County community college educational empire.

Again, the VVBAC was revealing far too much!

For those of us who observe the Board carefully, it was clear that as the VVBAC's voice grew on behalf of the Verde Valley, its existence was increasingly being placed in jeopardy. It had become the last thing the West County voting block could tolerate: a trusted, democratic, open, strong, thoughtful and effective voice for the citizens of the Verde Valley concerned about post-secondary education.

Further, it was producing excellent documents to support its intelligent and thoughtful recommendations. Finally, it was continually offering a hand of conciliation and cooperation to the District Governing Board to resolve many of the post-secondary issues in the Verde Valley. That generosity was never reciprocated and could not be tolerated.

Now that the West County majority has dismantled the VVBAC, the College propaganda machine will swing into overtime to try and "fix" things.

The strategy above all else will be to pacify Sedona's mayor, council, and citizens. They are feared above all else in the Verde Valley. It will do this with "B.S. rhetoric," and financial handouts.

It will promise to return a small portion of the $6 million to the Sedona taxing district it annually pays out to support the College. The handout will be applied to renovate the Sedona Center -- probably $3.5 million or so of its $80 million annual budget with the promise to develop a culinary program. A drop in its financial budget bucket.

Recall that the "fix-it" phase of the relationship with Sedona is being done only after the West majority and President Penelope Wills created a public relations nightmare for themselves when they unsuccessfully considered closing and selling the Center. And shuttering the internationally recognized film school.

Once Sedona is pacified and its political voices calmed, the controlling West County majority will quietly return to using the millions of excess discretionary dollars now at their disposal to build more and more facilities, athletic fields and programs for the West County.

The political lesson is clear. The only avenue left for the 70,000 residents of the Verde Valley if they are to ever develop a strong Community College is to seek help from the legislature. The legislature has the power to create a separate contiguous taxing district and Community College for the Verde Valley. Something similar to what was done when the legislature created the Sedona high school district.

I encourage you to write your legislators and the governor of Arizona demanding that the historic inequity existing between the East and West sides of Yavapai County in post-secondary learning opportunities be corrected.

The remedy is for legislation to create a separate contiguous taxing district for a Verde Valley Community College.

That is the only long-term solution to the continued absence of post-secondary learning opportunities in the Verde Valley.

Bob Oliphant is a resident of Cottonwood and a former member of the Yavapai College Board of Governors. More of his views on the college can be read on his internet blog, Eye on Yavapai College.

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