MCC trustees eye more openness

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 26, 2009 

BRADENTON — Still smarting from complaints about a sudden name change, Manatee Community College trustees have asked the administration for workshops in an effort to make their deliberations more understandable and transparent to the public.

On July 1, the college will formally change its name to the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, a controversial moniker that has drawn criticism for both its complexity and the hasty fashion nearly devoid of public comment in which it was adopted.

Trustee Beverly Beall has asked for a workshop on “process and communication,” saying that she is continuing to hear comments from members of the “Old Bradenton” establishment that identified with the name “Manatee Community College” in a way they apparently don’t with the new name, abbreviated SCF.

Saying she felt they need to reach out to that group, Beall noted there “ought to be more transparency.”

Communicating the board’s process is what it needs to work on, she said during the meeting Wednesday at the Bradenton campus.

“I feel I need to apologize,” she said, adding she did not want to be in that position again.

Fellow trustee Susan Miller Kelly said she also had heard complaints and concerns.

The board discussed the necessity of speed when the renaming was under consideration, a process that the school said began March 25 and ended with a favorable 6-1 vote April 15. The college also changed its mascot and nickname from “Lancers” to “Manatees.”

The college needed to hurry because it had won approval from the state Board of Education to offer a four-year nursing degree. Legislation passed last year allowed community colleges to offer four-year programs, allowing them to change their names in order to do so. Many of the state’s community colleges did change their names, most dropping the word “community” from their titles.

During the spring session of the Florida Legislature, lawmakers approved the college’s new name, enabling it to award baccalaureate degrees to students completing the new nursing program slated to begin next year.

MCC President Lars A. Hafner contends that part of the problem is that the public does not seem to understand the requirements imposed by the state’s strict Sunshine Law, which prohibits board members from discussing public issues in private among themselves. He noted that when he discusses items with the board during its meetings, it’s the first time anyone has heard anything about the subject.

He listed as possible workshop topics a charter school proposed for the Bradenton campus, the budget, and future objectives and legislative priorities. The workshops probably would start in the fall, he noted.

Trustee Rev. Kelvin Lumpkin said flatly, “I reject the notion we’re not transparent.” Still, he said Thursday that he thought the workshops were a good idea.

Trustee Christine Robinson, who cast the only “no” vote in April on the name change, stressed the value of the Sunshine Law.

“What I wanted to focus on is what a lot of folks don’t understand, is the fact we have to operate in the sunshine, which means anything that’s talked about between the board members has to be talked about during a publicly noticed meeting,” she said.

Robinson said she still feels the same about the name change, but added, “I certainly defend the reasons we made the decision.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908 or at skennedy@bradenton.com.

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