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Tension Returns to Gateway Board Meeting with Questions About Campuses

The issue of who purchased a valuable hillside in Covington previously owned by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and where Gateway Community & Technical Cillege previously operated a campus, was discussed at the college's board of directors meeting in Monday.

The site, on Amsterdam Road, overlooks Covington and the Cincinnati skyline and sold last month for $3.2 million. Gateway said that it has not identified the buyer yet because, "the records involve preliminary drafts, notes and correspondence with private individuals regarding real state appraisals, estimates, and evaluations. We understand and respect the media interest in the matter, but in the best interests of the college, its constituents, and the taxpayers, we must protect the integrity of the process until the transaction is fully consummated. At that point, the documents will become public records, which we will be pleased to release."

Gateway president Dr. Fernando Figueroa read a letter that he sent to board chair Ken Paul that described how and why the transaction has been kept confidential. Other parties have found out the information by requesting public records, and the question was raised, why the continued confidentiality? In the letter, Figueroa cited the Kentucky Community & Technical College System (KCTCS)'s legal counsel, and explained that after selecting a winning bid, based on predetermined factors, the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet reviewed the process, applying state law checks and balances, and the transaction is moving forward. The letter specified that until the transaction actually closes, however, there are many factors that can intervene and interfere with the completion of the process. Therefore the information will not be made public by the college until the transaction is no longer pending.

Chair Paul, with his background in county government, said he was not used to this procedure, and said it was unfortunate to have to go and ask for public records.

"As a board we have to say we are disappointed to say we have awarded the bid to Company A, but we can't announce who it is," said Paul. "Not until it finalizes. I understand that sometimes when you are closing on a house things can fall through. I am not used to that method of doing things."

In other business, the board members received a paper that instructed them how to grade the performance of the president. The annual evaluation includes four areas: institutional leadership/management, educational leadership/management and internal relations, external relations, and college relations, and then two open-ended questions, one about the contributions the president has made within the year, and issues and concerns for next year.   

Dr Julie Smith-Morrow said that she needed all the board members to fill the paper out, and leave it anonymous unless they really wanted to put their name on it, and get it back to her by May 1. The deadline for having the evaluation in to Dr. Jay Box, head of KCTCS, is June 1. The board is not able to go into executive session to accomplish the evaluation.

Figueroa announced that over 350 students made the Dean's List, and the party that those students and their families attended was a "raucous celebration" and the largest crowd ever.  

He also said that Gateway convened a meeting with Amazon regarding the company's plans to build its worldwide cargo hub in Northern Kentucky, and he said the companies and organizations invited to take part in the meeting, including NKY Tri-Ed, the NKY Chamber, TANK, and REDI, were very happy to be part of the conversation to discuss workforce needs.

Board member Jeff Groob brought up several issues. First, he suggested that some of the meeting minutes had wrong information in them. He wanted to know if only action items were reported on in minutes, or if everything was supposed to be included. Figueroa said that the board would need to decide which style of minutes it would prefer. Chair Paul said that currently the minutes reflect the conversation. Groob also demanded to know what the enrollment figure is, and no one was prepared to answer that question on demand.

Later, Groob said that the fact that the Cincinnati Enquirer had reported that Gateway had no plan for the Two Rivers building, but that The River City News reported that part of the overhang would be used for a gathering place.

"Either we have a plan or we don't," Groob stated.

Figueroa explained that though there was no formal plan, they had some informal plans that they had discussed at the recent board retreat. When Groob pressed him as to what they were, Figueroa explained further.

"The informal plan is the themes of the campuses," said Figueroa. "We are not leaving Two Rivers. We love Covington. We are going nowhere. We'll put it through in time."

During a report on the Gateway Foundation, Groob asked about the $150,000 in scholarships that were awarded, and he said that he added up some figures and his total for last year was only $60,000 awarded. He also challenged the figure of $800,000 which was what was reported for the amount spent by the Urban Advocacy Campaign.

Figueroa said that Groob was blindsiding the board with requests for things they reported previously but didn't have on hand at the meeting. Groob has missed several board meetings this academic year.

It was then explained that not all the scholarship money went through the Foundation, some went through other channels.

"I don't appreciate your attitude," Groob said tersely, addressing Figueroa. "But, point made."

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer
Michael Monks contributed
Photo: Gateway board meets Monday in Covington (RCN)