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NELSONVILLE, Ohio — Hocking Valley Bank CEO Tammy Bobo was appointed to the Hocking College Board of Trustees by a caucus of school board presidents Monday night, following a process marred by controversy. It is unclear if she will accept the appointment.
Bobo said she has not yet decided whether to accept the appointment, noting commitments that have arisen since she first applied to become a college trustee in August.
The caucus also reappointed two board members, Stuart Brooks and Leon Forté. In August, the body voted to replace both men, but that meeting was later declared invalid. At this month’s meeting, the board reconsidered all the applicants from the August meeting.
The August effort was backed by a group of current and former Hocking College employees organized via a Facebook group, “4 the LOVE of Hocking College.” Group members sought to oust Hocking College President Betty Young and other top college administrators, saying the move was necessary to save Hocking College from a “path of certain demise.” Members took issue with what they describe as a “toxic” work environment under Young and declines in enrollment and staffing.
Members of the group said they encouraged new applications to the board, which the caucus considered.
One “4 the LOVE of Hocking College” member, Micah Covert, is a former Hocking College employee and attended the first meeting of the caucus as president of the Nelsonville-York City School District board. Covert previously told the Independent he believed changing the board would result in changes to the college administration, including through Young’s ouster.
Brooks told the Independent in September—after the caucus attempted to oust him from the board—that Young had the “full confidence” of the current Hocking College board.
At that time, Bobo did not respond to a request for comment about her thoughts on the Hocking administration and concern among former employees. She declined to address questions related to the topic for this story.
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While “4 the LOVE of Hocking College” still exists, its founder said the group’s organizing has petered out. The founder, who requested to remain anonymous due to concerns about current employment, said this followed the Hocking College board’s rejection of the August effort and its October approval of a new two-year contract for Young renewable through 2028. The board also granted Young a raise and a permanent faculty position available at the conclusion of her presidency. The “4 the LOVE of Hocking College” founder has since left the group.
Dave Hayden, president of the Athens City School District board and chair of the Dec. 12 caucus meeting, said he was excited about Bobo being on the board because she is a woman who has “a relatively high profile in Athens.”
Hayden said, “I think that by having a diverse board of rational actors that don’t have as much at stake in the status quo, that at least we have more honest conversations about what’s happening at the college—which doesn’t necessarily mean there needs to be a change [in the college administration], but it means that we can have more perspectives on on the current state of affairs. Folks can make sure things are moving in the right direction.”
The “4 the LOVE of Hocking College” Facebook group founder said, “Tammy Bobo is a great appointment because she has both the financial understanding and the commitment to the community to do the right thing.” However, the founder said she does not view the outcome of the caucus meeting as a victory.
In addition to appointing Bobo for a three-year term, the caucus also reappointed Brooks and Forté to three-year terms. Brooks is key accounts manager at Rocky Brands, which his family owns. Forté is the founding and senior pastor at Grace Christian Center in The Plains.
The “4 the LOVE of Hocking College” founder described Forté as a “yes-man” for the board and said, “Stuart (Brooks) remains as [Young’s] number-one supporter.”
Forté is the first man of color to serve on the Hocking College board, Young said at the caucus meeting. He was the only person appointed to the board by a unanimous vote of the caucus.
“I like that the board continues to represent the population of the enrollment,” Forté said. “Whether they voted for me or not, just as long as we have somebody in place to represent everybody on campus, as the school has grown and the campus has diversified.”
Brooks said after the caucus meeting, “I’m very pleased to be back on the board. We work hard at it to put the college and students in front here. We’ve got a lot of good things ahead of us.”
Bobo replaces Mark Dean, vice president and a brand general manager at Rocky Brands. Dean said he was grateful for his time on the board, adding that Young’s “dynamic nature and dedication to the students at Hocking and the community are unmatched.” He also said he believes Bobo will be an asset to the college.
Bobo joins another new board member: Bailey Simons, executive director of the Hocking Hills Chamber of Commerce, who was appointed to the board by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine this fall. Young said she is excited about both new trustees.
“It’s always good to have anybody interested in the community being part of the board,” Young said.
Reconvening the caucus
The process of appointing trustees via the school board presidents’ caucus is intended to give school districts whose students may attend regional technical colleges a say over the governance of those colleges. Per the Ohio Revised Code, technical colleges representing a region as wide as Hocking’s see six board members appointed by the caucus and three appointed by the governor.
When Hocking College convened its presidents’ caucus on Aug. 17, the caucus voted to replace Brooks, Dean and Forté with Bobo and two other new board members. This represented an overhaul of a third of the college’s board—a move that was celebrated by the former employees organizing against the college administration.
On Aug. 18, Hocking College declared the previous day’s caucus meeting invalid, saying the college itself had not followed the proper procedure under Ohio Revised Code when it called the meeting. Brooks, Dean and Forté remained on the board while the school contacted the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Young said. A representative of the Ohio Attorney General’s office declined to comment for this story.
Young said she read the relevant section of Ohio Revised Code immediately following the Aug. 17 meeting and realized Hocking College had made a mistake by inviting the Logan-Hocking Local School District to chair the caucus meeting, as it has in years’ past. Logan-Hocking is a local school district, a designation not specifically listed in the statute. Although the school district had participated in previous caucuses appointing board members, Young told the Independent she did not expect that would affect those appointments.
The college looked into the legal procedure surrounding the presidents’ caucus because the college administration was unhappy with the August decision of the caucus, Brooks said.
Citing consultation with the Ohio Attorney General’s office, the college removed the Logan-Hocking Local School District from its list of six qualified school districts and added Crooksville Exempted Village Schools. With the caucus composition changed—and with participation from all qualifying school districts—the caucus partially reversed the August decision.
At the Dec. 12 meeting, Athens City School District board president Dave Hayden and Nelsonville-York City School District board member Gary Edwards voted to appoint Bobo, and also voted to replace Brooks with John Yanity of Columbia Gas of Ohio.
John McGaughey, New Lexington City School District board president, voted in favor of Bobo but joined Athens-Meigs Educational Service Center board vice president Jeff Koehler, Crooksville Exempted Village School District board president Alice Browning and Muskingum Valley Educational Service Center board president Mike Smith in supporting Brooks.
Covert sits out
Not all changes to the composition of the caucus were due to legal concerns. Nelsonville-York school board president Micah Covert said he did not attend this meeting of the caucus because of fallout from the previous caucus meeting (although his absence does not appear to have changed the outcome of the December meeting).
In a text message, Covert said he experienced personal and professional “threats” after the previous caucus meeting. “I have to stay out of it now, my anxiety and depression can’t take it,” Covert said.
Covert provided the Independent communications he received from Stuart Brooks following the Aug. 17 meeting in which Brooks repeatedly said he would “contact everyone” to tell them about Covert’s actions, including media outlets. Covert said Brooks also used “his wife’s social media accounts to make up stories about me.”
Brooks denied posting about Covert on social media but acknowledged sending him emails. He denied Covert’s characterization that his communications constituted harassment, however.
“I didn’t harass him,” Brooks said. “He’s just upset because we (Rocky Brands) fired him and he got fired here (Hocking College)….But that’s his problem, not my problem.”
Covert provided the Independent a letter from Hocking College’s Human Resources department stating he was terminated from his employment because his position was eliminated due to regular “budget evaluation and prioritization.” Covert also claimed he left Rocky Brands “on good terms” after 11 years.
NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect comments from Tammy Bobo and Mark Dean.
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