Election Notes

ACC Race: The Dirt

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that a board of trustees race at Austin Community College has devolved into an ugly, rumor-mongering mess: Everyone involved seems to know one another. Thus, in the final weeks of the campaign, supporters of Ana Mejia-Dietche in her race against incumbent Allen Kaplan have raised concerns about reports in 1996 and 2003 that cited Kaplan for overstepping his legal responsibilities as a trustee. Mejia-Dietche, however, is a former colleague of Kaplan's wife from a time they both worked under current ACC President Steve Kinslow, which is itself a funny state of affairs. Ugly business, these election things.

During the race, Mejia-Dietche did not make an issue of the report, compiled in 2003 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, even when Kaplan raised the issue himself. Several trustees, including Kaplan, were cited for overstepping the board's legal responsibilities by meeting among themselves or with faculty members without involving the ACC president. Kaplan admits this but says it was a reaction to the board's abysmal relationship with past President Richard Fonte, widely regarded as a divisive force in the college. The report also mentions a meeting in which Kaplan is reported to have given "mandates" to the architects planning a new campus, and points out that Kaplan's wife Maxine is an ACC employee. Maxine Kaplan was an ACC employee before Allen Kaplan ran for the board, so his trusteeship is legal; however, the SACS report said employees reported a sense of intimidation because of Maxine's ties to the boardroom.

SACS reaccredited the college in 2005. On the surface, that suggests that any skirmishes have been smoothed over, particularly because the process included faculty and staff interviews. "If there were something going on with that trustee since the last accreditation visit we would probably [have] known about it, and it would have been considered," said Belle Wheelan, president of SACS.

Martin Blair, senior buyer in the purchasing department and former colleague of Kaplan's wife, disagrees, particularly on the issue of nepotism. "Maxine Kaplan really does get a lot of consideration that many of us who are employees, particularly those who are in close proximity, don't believe anyone else would get were they not a board member's spouse," he said. As an example, he said Maxine Kaplan received a special cubicle with ergonomic enhancements to ease repetitive-motion strain that no other employee received; he also pointed out that Kaplan used his place on the dais to rant about his lack of faith in the purchasing department about six months after his wife left the department. On the rumor circuit, it's not hard to find people who, off the record, describe Allen Kaplan as hard to work with, albeit in less polite terms. He also has enthusiastic supporters, however. Representatives of full-time and adjunct faculty organizations, plus the union, said they know of no ongoing disputes involving either Kaplan. Paula Robertson-Rose, who was a faculty leader at the time of the SACS citations and is now active in the union, said that any past problems had been worked out. "We don't have reservations about his performance," she said.

Mejia-Dietche is not without entanglements of her own. The former ACC grant writer (who continued to teach classes as an adjunct until launching her campaign) worked with Kaplan's wife at a tumultuous time in the department. In 2003, she was reassigned to another position in a process overseen by president Kinslow. Mejia-Dietche says the transfer turned out fine, but ACC documents show she reported friction in the new position. If elected to the board, she'll get to vote on whether to extend the contract of the man who once managed this reassignment, but she says her history with Kinslow plays no role in her decision to run. "My point in running," she says, "isn't to get into a bunch of stuff about anybody's personal issues. It's about a college that needs a fresh voice and fresh point of view on the board."

Complicating voters' decisions is the fact that ACC trustees serve six-year terms. That's plenty of time for problems to be solved, fences to be mended, and behavior to change. Alternately, it's plenty of time to screw things up. Happy voting.

*Oops! The following correction ran in the May 26, 2006 issue: Last week, in the Election Notes article titled "ACC Race: The Dirt," an editing error garbled a sentence in the story about the race between Allen Kaplan and Ana Mejia-Dietche. It should have read:

"Mejia-Dietche, however, is a former colleague of Kaplan's wife from a time they both worked under current ACC President Steve Kinslow, which is itself a funny state of affairs. Ugly business, these election things."

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Austin Community Collegemunicipal elections, Ana Mejia-Dietche, Austin Community College, Allen Kaplan, Maxine Kaplan, Martin Blair, Paula Robertson-Rose

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