This post is a follow-up to my earlier post, “Obfuscation of Long-Term Asbestors Issue at Texas College; Governance Issues Exposed” [https://academeblog.org/2014/11/28/obfuscation-of-long-term-asbestos-issues-at-texas-college-issues-with-governance-exposed/].
Carlos Griffin, a member of the Board of Trustees of Kilgore College has been at the center of the efforts to understand the problems with the removal of asbestos from many of the buildings on the campus and to implement a plan to address those problems as quickly and as safely as possible. He has agreed to respond to a series of questions that I posed.
1. How are members of the board of Trustees appointed? When and why were you appointed and for how long will you serve?
Solicitations made of the public, interviews conducted by the Board Committee and recommendations made to the Board. Refer to my LinkedIn page for the Kilgore News Herald article on when I was appointed. I will serve as long as the Good Lord allows.
2. When and how did you become aware of the issues with the inadequate and improper asbestos removal?
The best that I can recall it was a Trustee mentioning that he was told the EPA was on campus investigating the college. I inquired of the college President via email, and he indicated it was no more than a Peer Group Review. I asked for a copy of the reviewer’s report from the College President and received it promptly. I was alarmed after reviewing the report, seeing a picture of what was called asbestos. I began asking questions of the college President to verify no students, employees or visiting public were exposed to asbestos. I was assured by the college President that all were safe–that there was no exposure. However, some of my questions remain unanswered–therefore, my alarm.
3. Did your persistent interest in the issue cause Dalton Smith to become a whistleblower, or did his decision to become a whistleblower arouse your interest in the issue?
I have never been contacted directly by Mr. Smith or received information directly from Mr. Smith. I do not know Mr. Smith.
4. Why has this issue been inadequately and improperly addressed for what seems like an extended period: that is, why did the college not simply address it seriously and systematically?
I don’t have enough information available as of this writing to answer fully. I did ask the college President for a copy of a consultant’s 1997 report for the purpose of having a consultant of my choice and at my cost render an opinion that might better inform me of the asbestos issue on campus. The college President and the college attorney asked me to make a Public Information Request. I did. I hired an attorney to respond to the college attorney’s response to my Public Information Request. As of this writing, I have no information for my consultant to review. Other institutions have certainly had similar issues and have addressed them conscientiously. One of my consultants showed me a thorough Asbestos Operations and Maintenance Plan utilized by another college. It is my goal to implement such a policy very soon.
5. Why is Dan Beach so centrally involved in all of this? His title would not seem to suggest that such an issue would typically be one of his responsibilities. Is he still the person who seems to be singularly taking the fall on this issue?
Refer to the College Organizational Chart on the College Website. The college President is employed by the Board, and has a voice on that Board, I hold the college President ultimately responsible for his staff.
6. Has the attention that you have brought to the issue resulted in meaningful action?
I do feel Reverend Nutt and his family would not be so violently threatened if I would have turned a blind eye to the absence of any Board approved Asbestos Policy. I have read in the newspaper of asbestos abatement operations to be conducted over the Christmas break.
[For more details, see the article “Allegations and a Bullet Fly in Texas,” written by Ry Ryvard for Inside Higher Ed: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/12/04/asbestos-land-deals-and-bullet-part-controversy-texas-community-college.]
7. How have your efforts on this issue affected your ability to continue to serve effectively on the Board of Trustees?
I have spent about $25,000 on my independent counsel after the majority of my Board denied me access to the college attorney. My desire seeking legal counsel and/or consultants of my choice, that I may be better informed before casting my vote, has caused discord with others on the Board and the employee of the Board, the college President. Rubber Stamping the college President’s directives, by unanimous vote, would effectively serve the President and avoid discord, but I believe that Board governance would be abdicated by doing so.
8. Has there been broader fall-out from this issue–in the communities served by the college, in the state, nationally?
The City of Kilgore seems to be very concerned over any threat to the economic sustenance that the College provides. The state and national fall-out presented itself immediately after Reverend Nutt’s Family was threatened by a bullet entering his home.
9. Is anyone addressing the short-term impact of this issue on enrollment and the longer-term liability for health issues that the college has seemingly created for itself?
Enrollment has been in decline far before the public recently became aware of asbestos being observed on campus by the Peer Review Group. Unabated asbestos on campus does create issues. The sooner the abatement(s) are completed and the public informed, the better for all involved.
Further to my Enrollment Concerns result from unanswered questions to date, posed to the College President, copying one of the two executive Board Members:
“Please Validate the following as I want to know What I am looking at?: I received a copy of the KC Faculty Association Minutes of October 10, 2014 1:30 p.m. Old Main 137. @II. ‘Kilgore has had an alarmingly high cohort default rate which could lead to the inability of the college to secure Pell Grants in the future.’ @III. ‘All email conversations concerning student awards have been forwarded to administration so they can decide which are meaningful to keep and which to drop.'”
10. Given your role in bringing this issue to attention, do you feel that this incident illustrates more the way that Board of Trustees are supposed to function or the way in which they fail to function as intended?
The Peer Group Review brought attention to asbestos on campus. I do expect my Board will pass a policy for the college President to implement and to follow. Hindsight is always 20/20 and much of the attention may have been avoided if the college President had had a policy to follow.