CRYSTAL LAKE – Former McHenry County College President Walt Packard did not leave his post over an ailing wife. He was pushed out by the MCC board, two trustees said.
In late February, the college announced that Packard was stepping down to take care of his sick wife and assuming the role of president emeritus. That wasn’t the whole story.
Four days before the announcement, at a hastily called special board meeting Feb. 23, trustees met in closed session to discuss Packard’s contract and compensation.
No formal vote was taken during the three-hour meeting, but the majority said they opposed an extension of Packard’s contract, which was set to expire June 30, 2010.
“Five members didn’t want to extend the contract, and by the end of the meeting, an out was presented,” trustee Carol Larson said.
The “out” was a contract that named Packard president emeritus, a job with few responsibilities but the same $188,564 annual salary and benefits as his previous post.
Larson and Board President George Lowe said they had wanted Packard to continue on as president, but they eventually joined the majority, who wanted to start looking for a new leader.
“I tried to put forth every argument I could,” Lowe said. “We could have asked for [Packard’s] resignation at the end of June. He could have stayed on and kept working and we would have avoided all the publicity and saved all this money.”
Since Packard already had a contract in place, and the board didn’t have grounds to terminate him, Lowe said the college was required to continue paying him through June 30, 2010.
A statement released by the college several days later explained that Packard was resigning to be able to care for his wife. The statement didn’t mention that he would continue to be paid or that the board had wanted him to step down.
However , Lowe and trustee Scott Summers said Packard’s departure was unrelated to Nancy Packard’s illness.
“We all felt badly about Nancy Packard, but that wasn’t the reason,” said Summers, who resigned from the board Friday. “It had nothing to do with Nancy’s illness.”
Summers said he hadn’t spoken with Packard for two years because of disagreements and personal feelings. Summers, an attorney, described Packard’s transition to president emeritus as a “no-fault divorce.”
“It was time for a change in leadership,” he said.
Other board members cited further reasons for the split.
“All the trustees had different concerns, but generally there were concerns about openness and transparency,” trustee Donna Kurtz said. “We weren’t always aware of what was happening in our own institution.”
Trustee Mary Miller, one of the five against the contract extension, said for her, it was because of Nancy Packard’s illness. She defended the decision and said it was time to start looking forward.
“I think it’s huge media hype,” she said. “Let it die. Move on with something more positive.”
Trustee Barbara Walters could not be reached for comment. Nor could Frances Glosson, who did not run for re-election and no longer is on the board.
Packard, reached at his home Thursday, declined to comment. His contract with the board of trustees contains a confidentially agreement that prevents either party from making disparaging comments about the other.
“I’m trying to honor my contract with the board,” Packard said.
Both Lowe and Larson said they regretted the board’s decision. Kurtz and Miller said it was made with the interests of the college, the taxpayers, and the future in mind.
“I believe the board has done the right thing,” Kurtz said. “We could have done the transition and communication better, but we did the best possible job we could with the information we had.”
The board last week approved a contract worth more than $200,000 a year with Larry Tyree to serve as interim president while college officials search for a more permanent replacement. That means the college is on pace to spend more than $400,000 in total compensation on its president and president emeritus this year.
Tyree, who has more than two decades of experience as a community college president, is expected to start Aug. 15.