A contentious race for the McHenry County College board of trustees has given way to controversial final weeks for outgoing board members.
Trustees Barbara Walters and Carol Larson were voted out of office last week. Three days later, officials called a special meeting, the agenda for which included extending college President Vicky Smith's contract through 2015.
Trustee Cynthia Kisser said the meeting was initially called to deal with emergency repairs to storm and sanitary pipes and the contract extension was added to the agenda for timeliness.
But dozens of community members have cried foul -- about 80 packed the board meeting, which was held Tuesday night. Trustees ultimately put off a decision on the contract, but Kisser expects it to be on the agenda April 25, the last meeting for which current board members will have a vote.
Incoming Trustee Chris Jenner said he would prefer to be part of a decision on Smith's contract.
"People who are leaving the board, effective April 25, 2013, want to vote on a contract extension from 2014 to 2015 when they're going to be long gone," Jenner said. "Whatever decision is made, it's one that the new board has to live with."
Kisser said the current board conducted the evaluation of Smith and worked most closely with her over the past year so they should be the ones to decide whether she did her job well. She said the same thing happened when she was an incoming board member two years ago and the prior board approved a contract extension without her vote.
"It didn't bother me," Kisser said. "To be frank, I didn't really feel qualified to evaluate Dr. Smith."
Technically, board members do not have to make any decision about Smith's contract until June and, unless she finds another job, could move to extend her tenure as late as June 2014, when the current contract expires.
Stephen Willson, a Lakewood resident, is suspicious the contract extension would be a gift from outgoing board members to a president who may not keep her job once new voices are on the board. Willson said it would cost the college half a million dollars if board members prematurely terminate an extended contract for the college president.
And Willson does not think outgoing board members should have a say in Smith's future at MCC.
"It is not a matter of whether she has done well in the old board's opinion," Willson said. "If the new board is unhappy with her policies, with her direction, with her support of the expansion and other projects, then they should have the right to decide whether to keep her or terminate her."
The April 9 election became somewhat of a referendum on the college's expansion plans that could include a $42 million health sciences building and health club. Walters and Larson, who supported the expansion, were voted out while Jenner, Thomas Wilbeck and Molly Walsh, were elected after stating hesitation with the plans or outright opposition.
Jenner said new board members would have at least seven weeks to get up to speed on the other trustees' evaluation of Smith -- plenty of time considering the chairman of the board and the chairman of the policy and evaluation committee will still be trustees to help guide the process, he said.
None of the candidates mentioned Smith's contract during the campaign and Jenner said any rumors about their motives being to get elected and fire Smith are unfounded.
Whether the old board will vote on Smith's contract before new trustees are sworn in next week is still up in the air.