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EDITORIAL: NIC at edge of thin legal ice

For nearly two and a half decades, attorney Marc Lyons has served North Idaho College well.

This is the entire college, not just a recently power-hungry, politically motivated majority of the college’s board of trustees.

But Lyons’ refusal to tell certain trustees what they wanted to hear rather than what they needed to consider made him the enemy, and he announced his resignation on November 25. The NIC board of trustees was expected to act on the resignation Wednesday night, but the blizzard postponed that meeting.

The departure of a prominent attorney for the college will not generate the kind of news that resonated when the board, led by Todd Banducci, fired former president Rick MacLennan last fall without cause and against attorney Lyons’ advice.

Predictably, MacLennan sued, and the groundless trustee decision cost the former president a $250,000 payout in January, on top of a full year’s pay.

Not coincidentally, NIC’s insurer refused to cover the college further due to unacceptable risk. NIC looked around and reported that a policy that cost $310,000 the previous year would now cost around $540,000 – plus an additional $115,000 for a three-month gap policy. Perhaps all this would have been avoided if Todd Banducci and his pals had heeded Lyons’ advice.

Still, Banducci and his enablers are undoubtedly claiming victory in the sunset of Lyons’ tenure at the college. Going back to last year, Banducci wanted Lyons gone. When he didn’t get his way, the board chairman insisted that NIC hire additional legal counsel—presumably someone who would kiss the king’s posterior and demote Lyons and his wisdom to the peanut gallery.

That runoff ultimately broke down, but with extremists regaining control of the council in the November election, Lyons saw the writing on the wall.

“It has become clear that my services are no longer desired by those who will soon hold a majority position on the Board of Trustees,” Lyons said in his Nov. 25 resignation letter.

He then revealed what kind of lawyer – and person – those who know him best already understood. “While this is disappointing, it is certainly the right of the board, and I have no desire to promote any tension or disruption at the college,” Lyons wrote.

True to form seen consistently over the past 23 years, Lyons put the college’s welfare above all other interests, including and especially his own. But doing so now removes the fence around the NIC legal minefield, especially if the board majority replaces Lyons with a political ally rather than an attorney or law firm with extensive experience representing complex public institutions.

To NIC and all who value the college, Marc Lyons will be missed. It’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us Todd.

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