Friction at Luna ‘hurting morale’

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By Martin Salazar

Officials at Luna Community College agree that morale is bad at the school and that good employees are fleeing.

During Tuesday’s board of trustees meeting, the announcement that Susan Grohman resigned late last week as director of the Health Sciences Department and that Conni Reichert had been named interim director prompted much consternation and finger pointing.

“Why is there so much turnover?” board member Ernie Chavez asked pointedly. “I feel concerned because a lot of good people are leaving us.”

Chavez berated the administration, contending that he and other board members are being left in the dark, and he questioned whether the departures are due to the way the school is being run and even whether he is partly responsible for the situation.

“It’s pathetic,” Chavez said. “What’s going on?”

That opened up the door for Luna President Pete Campos and Board Chairman Abelino Montoya, both of whom suggested that the board has become dysfunctional since April, when Chavez and two other new board members took office. And they said that situation is hurting the school, with Montoya suggesting that it might even hurt the institution’s reaccreditation efforts.

Campos recommended to board members that they start working together.

“Once (employees) see a cohesive board of trustees and people working together in board meetings and outside in the community, I think this will stop,” said Campos, who himself announced that he is leaving the school once his contract expires on June 30, 2014.

Chavez again complained that board members aren’t being notified and accused Campos of insubordination.

“It’s pathetic as far as I’m concerned,” he said

Campos fired back, saying that the college is providing Chavez with information he has been requesting. But he noted that the requests have been taking away time from other work that school employees need to take care of.

“We are taking your direction seriously,” he said. “When it comes to those abrupt resignations, I can’t stop them.”

Chavez countered that he isn’t getting the direction he wants, contending that he never hears from Campos. He then suggested that the board consider changing its policy to allow board members to go directly to directors for information “because you’re not doing your job.”

Montoya cut off a response from Campos, saying that he has seen the stacks of information provided to Chavez and documentation of the copious calls Chavez makes to the school.

Montoya said the board needs to come together and begin working together as a whole, adding that in the many years he has been on the board, this is the first time he’s seen this level of “dysfunction” on the board.

“I think people are wanting to leave here because they’re afraid,” Montoya said. “Anytime somebody is afraid about their job or their pay or where it’s going to come from, that’s shattering.”

Directing his remarks to Chavez, Montoya added, “You made a statement on April 5 that the morale was bad here; it’s worse now because we keep searching and looking and digging and digging. There’s nothing to dig out. Everything is pretty honest...”

Montoya stressed that it’s the job of the president to run the college and the board’s job to create policy, noting that those roles are outlined both in the president’s contract and in state law. He also said that board members in the past have had serious disagreements and differences of opinion in the past, but the board, in the past, has been able to come together and do what’s best for the institution.

Montoya also warned that the college is up for reaccreditation and that the bickering and fighting that is occurring is coming to the accrediting agency’s attention.

“So we’re not allowed to know what’s going on,” Chavez responded.

“That’s not what I said,” Montoya answered. “We shouldn’t be micromanaging. I’m asking us to come together as a board. It doesn’t have to be antagonistic.”

Montoya, referring to employes, later added, “These people out here are working every day... We’ve got to have respect for these people, Mr. Chavez.”

He also said that the Luna board is being looked down on in the community and among state lawmakers because of the public battles. And he expressed concern that the bad publicity is going to hurt the college’s enrollment. Montoya also said that Campos has tried to address everything the board has brought up.

And Montoya noted that now that Campos has announced plans to retire, any threats being made won’t be effective.

Now he can run the college the way he wants because the board can’t afford the roughly $200,000 payout to fire him, Montoya said.

“I think we can work together, Mr. Chavez,” Montoya said.

Chavez took exception to the suggestion that he is micromanaging or that he is calling the school for information every day.

“It’s not right,” he said.

In an effort to address some of the issues brought up during the board meeting, Luna spokesman Jesse Gallegos promptly issued a statement from the college: “Luna Community College has a tremendously talented, thoughtful and highly-qualified faculty and staff that work hard for our students in and outside the classroom on a daily basis. Our college has and will continue to provide a quality education at a very affordable tuition rate. As ‘The People’s College’ we reach out to everyone and provide a comfortable learning environment—and we are very happy to deliver this service. As an accredited college, we are meeting the workforce needs of our students.”

Board action
Also at Tuesday’s meeting:

Montoya announced that he and board member Kenny Medina had met with the state Higher Education Secretary José Garcia and asked HED to do an audit of the schools finances to assuage any concerns.

“They think everything is fine but agreed to come and do a review of our budget,” Montoya said. He added that Garcia is very concerned about the roles of boards across the states and wants to visit with the Luna board. That meeting has been scheduled for July 24.

The board also signed off on the hiring of a concurrent enrollment coordinator, a general maintenance worker and the head softball coach.

Rebecca Silva, with Luna’s human resources department, told the board that there were nine applicants for the concurrent enrollment job, and of those, one wasn’t qualified and a second pulled out.

Campos recommended that the top ranked candidate for that position, Charles Trujillo, be hired, and the board approved it.

Silva said 13 people applied for the maintenance job, and nine of those met the posted requirements.

Campos recommended that the top-ranked candidate, Jerry Aguilar be hired, and the board approved it.

Silva said two people applied for the head softball position, and both were qualified. Campos recommended that the top- ranked candidate, Nathan Trujillo, be hired, and the board agreed.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, Andrew Feldman, academic director for the department of Science, Math and Engineering Technology, requested permission to post for a full-time math and technology faculty member. The position recently became vacant and is already budgeted.

Chavez asked Feldman whether his department could do without that position. Feldman responded that his department can’t do without that position, and the board approved the posting of it, with Chavez voting against.