Hocking College rejects board overhaul

Hocking College says that the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Ohio Department of Higher Education agree with the college’s assertion that an attempt to appoint three new members to the Hocking College Board of Trustees was invalid.

The attempted board appointments were related to an effort led primarily by former Hocking College employees to overhaul the college administration, including by replacing College President Betty Young.

Young said the college contacted both agencies after an Aug. 17 caucus of four regional school board presidents, which resulted in a vote to replace three incumbent college trustees. According to Young, both the attorney general’s office and the department of higher education advised the college that the Aug. 17 caucus meeting was invalid. 


Young said Hocking College did not have documentation of the attorney general’s recommendation because “we just talked with them, and they gave me direction.”

Representatives of the Ohio Department of Higher Education said the matter was being handled by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, which declined to share anything about communications with Hocking College, citing attorney-client privilege. The attorney general’s office would neither confirm nor deny issuing a decision on the validity of the caucus and has not responded to subsequent inquiries.

Multiple caucus participants said they have not received updates from Hocking College or the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. However, Dave Hayden of the Athens City School District Board of Education said that after reviewing the relevant section of Ohio Revised Code with the district’s attorney, he agrees with the college’s interpretation.

“It sounds to me as though that’s reasonable, that we may have to [reconvene the caucus],” Hayden said. “If that’s the case—if the statute was misread—my question would be… does that make current trustees who were appointed by previous caucuses also invalid?”

Caucus complications

On Aug. 17, a caucus of school board presidents decided not to reappoint Hocking College board members Leon Forte, Mark Dean and Stuart Brooks to new three-year terms. Instead, three of the four board presidents in attendance—Hayden, Lance Bell of the Logan-Hocking Local School District and Micah Covert of Nelsonville-York City School District—selected new trustees.

At the trustees’ meeting the next day, however, Chair Ben Mitchell said the previous day’s caucus meeting was invalid because Logan-Hocking Local School District is not legally allowed to appoint trustees.

“T​here was a procedural error made by the college that invalidates the results,” Mitchell said in a statement, which was obtained by the Independent through a records request and is available in its entirety on the Independent’s website.

Ohio Revised Code Section 3357.05(B) reads in part, “Six trustees shall be appointed by the presidents or their representatives of the city and exempted village boards of education of school districts and the governing boards of service districts whose territories are embraced in the technical college district.”

Logan-Hocking is a local school district, not a city or exempted village district. “Therefore, the results of this meeting are invalid,” Mitchell’s statement read.

However, an email Bell provided to the Independent shows that Kyle Fuller, Young’s executive assistant, asked Bell to attend and chair the meeting of the caucus—just as the Logan-Hocking president has at previous meetings.

“In the year’s past, the President of the school board for Logan has always chaired this meeting” [sic], Fuller wrote.

Young said she does not expect Logan-Hocking’s past role in the caucus to impact the validity of the caucus’s previous appointments to the board.

“I’m just trying to make sure that we move forward… in compliance,” Young said. 

Covert—who was among those participating in the caucus—said the problem isn’t about procedure, but rather the president’s preferences.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and we’ve never once had a procedural error,” he said. “So the reality is, [Young] didn’t get the board members she wanted.”

According to Covert, “During the meeting, [Young] tried to actively advocate for the three people that are currently on the board, ” Covert said, “but it’s not her decision. She does not get to pick her bosses.”

Young said she is not concerned about the prospect of the three individuals appointed by the caucus moving onto the board.

“Board members change from time to time,” Young said. “Whoever’s on the board, the president works with them.”

Bell, Hayden and Covert all said Young appeared visibly upset after the caucus vote. 

Young said she read the relevant section of Ohio Revised Code after the caucus meeting because it was included in the packet prepared for the caucus. She said she realized the “oversight on everybody’s part” regarding Bell’s participation in the caucus.

“There’s a lot of fingers to be pointed about who didn’t know,” Young said. “The law was shared with the caucus members; nobody brought it up.”

Brooks said Young and board members questioned the legality of the caucus meeting after “everybody was kind of stunned” by its decision. 

“You never look at a problem until it sticks its head up,” Brooks said. “Nobody’s ever challenged [the caucus] because we’ve never had anything like this. So when it came up, we’re going, ‘Wait a minute—three people can throw us off?’ …That just doesn’t sound right.”

The caucus’ choice

The Hocking College public records department said minutes from the Aug. 17 caucus meeting do not exist. However, the school board presidents in attendance said Bell, Covert and Hayden voted to appoint three new trustees to the Hocking College board:

  • Tammy Bobo, president and CEO of Hocking Valley Bank, who attended evening classes at Hocking
  • John Yanity with Columbia Gas of Ohio, who attended Hocking in 1976–77
  • Ralph Harvey Sr., an employee of the Marietta-based nonprofit WASCO and a former member of the Albany Village Council

“There was interest among the other people in the caucus—and interest in the community—in having the opportunity to have some different voices on the Board of Trustees,” Hayden said.

Muskingum Valley Education Service Center President Michael Smith abstained from the vote. He put forward an alternative resolution to reappoint Forte, Dean and Brooks, but the motion was not seconded. 

“I had my preference for who I thought the three best candidates were,” Smith said. “That doesn’t mean that the others aren’t good candidates.”

Representatives of the Athens-Meigs Educational Service Center and the New Lexington City School District were invited to the meeting but did not attend.

“We have some really good board members right now,” Young said, noting that Forte is the first man of color to serve on the board.

Brooks noted that he and Forte live in Nelsonville, unlike the three candidates appointed by the presidents’ caucus. 

Hayden sees the board’s composition differently. Stuart Brooks and his brother Mike Brooks, who also serves on the Hocking College board, are members of the family which owns Rocky Brands, Inc., the large footwear manufacturing company. Board member Mark Dean is vice president and a brand general manager at the company.

“It felt as though there was a lot of representation from one particular interest and that might not be in the best interest of the school,” Hayden said.

Vendetta or intervention?

Brooks believes the caucus was the result of a personal “vendetta” against him and the Hocking College board and administration led by Covert, a former employee of the college.

“I don’t like him, and he don’t like me,” Brooks said. “Quite frankly, that’s just fine. But he shouldn’t have been the one to cast the vote.”

Brooks said he is concerned primarily about a fair process.

“If they say they want us off—when we get to a vote that is with somebody who’s not biased against us—then I’m fine with that,” Brooks said. “I just want it to be fair.”

Covert said he is a member of a private Facebook group, “4 the LOVE of Hocking College,” comprising current and former Hocking College employees. Another member—former employee and union president Brian Alloway—said the group is used to organize toward shared goals, including “getting rid of Dr. Young and other bad eggs” in order to create “a safe, positive environment for education” and “bring Hocking College back to the quality place it was.” (Read more about the group here.)

“The college is going in the wrong direction—many people believe that,” said Covert. 

With three board seats up for reappointment, Alloway said, the group spread the word about open trustee positions and encouraged applications as a step toward overhauling the Hocking College administration. 

“These new board appointments would be one hell of a good first step in trying to resurrect this college and get it going back in the right direction,” Alloway said.

The new board appointments were in response to community concern, Bell said. 

“The feedback that I’ve had over the years is things haven’t been good (at Hocking College) for a while—just a lot of questions over how things are done,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good to bring a new perspective onto the board.”

Covert described the current board as “apathetic” and said if the new appointments stand, he believes the Hocking College administration would change.

“I think anyone who is not currently on the board—anyone in the community who take an independent look at what has happened in that place during [Young’s] tenure— they would see she is not the right fit,” he said.

Brooks, however, said Young has the current board’s “full confidence,” noting, “She’s doing what’s right to get this college back on stable ground.”

One of the caucus’s appointees also supports Young: “I think Dr. Young is doing a good job,” said Harvey. He said he had no communication with anyone currently or formerly associated with Hocking College before applying to the board.

Next steps

Young said the college is working to determine which school districts should participate in a new caucus and which should chair. The college intends to convene a new caucus in October to address the board appointments, Young said. Current board members will continue to serve in the interim.

However, Hayden said his interpretation of the Ohio Revised Code is that the process be driven by the caucus itself.

“I’m not sure the college gets to make that decision,” he said.

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