Trustees strive to make transparency top priority
Washtenaw Community College’s Board of Trustees does some of the most important work on behalf of the students and staff at the college. From balancing an ever growing budget with dwindling resources, the job they do is a taxing and often thankless.
As they work, The Washtenaw Voice has had the pleasure of seeing them in action, and we take each meeting quite seriously. That’s why we send at least two and sometimes four reporters just to cover each meeting and the wide range of issues presented at them.
One of the highlights we have noticed while attending this year’s meetings is the open approach trustees take when deciding crucial issues facing the college. If anything, it is a refreshing change of pace for the board as a whole.
In years past, the board meetings have had an air of careful orchestration. In some ways, the meetings seemed almost choreographed. Whenever a hallmark issue was presented before trustees, an infinitesimal amount of discussion and consideration was followed with a unanimous vote. As lively debates arose, they were stifled quickly in favor of moving on and deliberating later.
Often those deliberations never happened in public, but were swiftly decided at the next meeting. Whatever discussion ensued before was not heard of again in public. While former President Larry Whitworth was willingly accessible to Voice reporters, it was obvious that he held a tight grip on board proceedings and would often stand up for his executive staff when grilled by trustees.
However, we have seen the board’s culture shift as a new president makes her mark on the campus, and as a new sense of accountability in leadership forms among the trustees.
Last year, nearly every meeting ended in a closed session. We understand the need for these private sessions, which usually involve contract negotiations or sensitive staffing issues. This year, there have been relatively fewer closed sessions.
Not once this year has President Rose Bellanca interrupted conversations about policy and new initiatives, many of which she has brought before trustees, in favor of moving on later. If anything, she seems to relish in the diatribe, even if the board does not share her opinion. Board Chair Pamela Horiszny has made it apparent that doing the college’s business in a public forum is her top priority.
Horiszny has gone as far as delaying votes on new programs and tuition increases just for the sake of presenting them at a regularly scheduled board meeting. While we impatiently await these decisions, the effort to avoid even the appearance of impropriety is commendable.
And when The Voice has asked for information that was initially denied, Bellanca and Horiszny made it their mission to make certain we had what we needed to make our stories as accurate as possible.
The term “seeing right through” someone often carries a negative connotation. In this case, we offer the words in high esteem when looking at our trustees. A board we can see through is one we and the rest of the student body can begin to trust.