Business group to push ouster of 4 on PCC board

2013-04-24T00:00:00Z 2014-08-05T11:03:03Z Business group to push ouster of 4 on PCC boardCarol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

An influential group of local business leaders plans to pressure longtime members of Pima Community College's Governing Board to resign, and is prepared to lead a recall effort if they don't step down.

The Southern Arizona Leadership Council - a group that includes some of Tucson's biggest business names, including auto magnate Jim Click and developer Don Diamond - also asked the board to call off its search for a new chancellor until the troubled school is stabilized.

The board didn't heed the group's request on Friday to stop the search. The next day, PCC named four finalists for the permanent chancellor post.

In a letter to PCC board members, Ron Shoopman, a retired Air Force general who's president of the leadership council, called it "disheartening" that PCC recently was placed on probation by its accreditor, the Chicago-based Higher Learning Commission.

The two-year sanction resulted from a recent investigation that identified serious failings in PCC's administration and governance.

Problems included corrupt contracting practices, board mishandling of sexual harassment complaints against former Chancellor Roy Flores and a "culture of fear and retribution," created by Flores and sustained after he left by other top executives who still work at the school.

Flores resigned last year after eight women accused him of sexual harassment. He denied the allegations.

The PCC board members in charge during the Flores era - Brenda Even, Scott Stewart, Marty Cortez and David Longoria - were deemed by the accreditor to be defensive, "dysfunctional" and lacking in ethics.

According to Shoopman, the one bright spot in recent events was PCC's hiring of an interim chancellor who has "an outstanding history of transforming other community colleges."

Zelema Harris, the retired chancellor of St. Louis Community College, started work last week as interim leader of the Tucson school.

Shoopman said Harris should be granted enough time to get the college firmly back on track before PCC chooses a permanent leader. Otherwise, her "ability to act will be limited as she will be perceived as a 'lame duck' leader," he wrote in his letter.

Harris' existing contract at PCC calls for her to leave, at the latest, by late August.

C.J. Karamargin, PCC's spokesman, said in an email on Tuesday that Harris isn't interested in staying beyond her contract.

The Star requested, through Karamargin, to speak to Harris about the matter but did not hear back from her by Tuesday night.

In an recent email to members of the executive group, Ted Maxwell, the group's vice president, said the council is forming a "PCC Action Team" to encourage resignations of Flores-era board members. It calls on business leaders and community organizations to join the effort.

"We have not yet approved a call for resignations; that is the immediate work ahead," a statement linked to the email said.

If board members won't resign, "the team will be prepared to lead the effort to recall the board members, if necessary," it said.

The executive group's push for board resignations and request to halt the chancellor search follows similar calls recently made by PCC's faculty senate and other employee groups.

All five PCC board members were asked for comment Tuesday on the leadership council's efforts. Two responded: Even, who's been on the PCC board since 2001 and Sylvia Lee, the board's newest member, who was not implicated in the accreditor's findings.

Even, the board's current chairwoman and co-chair of the chancellor search committee, said in an email that "the chancellor search must continue," because Harris, the new interim, "is only here for a limited time per her contract."

Lee took the opposite view.

"I believe any new chancellor selected right now will be at a serious disadvantage," she said, since most of the existing board "has had a vote of no confidence by virtually all constituent groups."

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnet.com or at 573-4138.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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