EDITOR’S NOTE: Renton Technical College trustees: Why is it so hard to answer ‘why?’

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Who hasn’t been frustrated by a child’s persistent question, “But, why?”

That child is just trying to make sense of the world.

Tuesday night, some of Renton’s leading citizens asked “why?,” even though they’re the ones who’ve got the world pretty well figured out.

Maybe it’s because they understand how Renton’s world works that they were in almost universal disbelief that Don Bressler’s job as president of Renton Technical College was at risk.

They deserved, along with the rest of the Renton community, an answer to the obvious question: Why would you fire Bressler, someone who has provided important leadership in the community and at RTC?

The answer, because we can.

The board invoked a clause – “termination for convenience” – which means to me at least that the board doesn’t have to give a reason at all.

Officially, the trustees issued a statement, saying the board and Bressler wanted to take the college in different directions. How many times have you heard that boilerplate explanation?

That decision made no sense to trustee Rich Zwicker, one of RTC’s most passionate advocates, who resigned in what could only be described as disgust over the 3-1 vote to oust Bressler.

That decision will turn RTC’s world upside down, cost the college (read taxpayers) tens of thousands of dollars and remove an education leader respected across the state. Please recall the important role Bressler played in convincing the governor and state Legislature to ease somewhat the impact the state’s budget crisis would have on community and technical colleges.

He won’t be there next session when, undoubtedly, the governor and legislators will sharpen their budget knives to face yet-another budget shortfall.

Tuesday night, there remained hope. The board twice extended the time for its executive session. Maybe the board was looking for a way to save face, some reasoned. Obviously , that wasn’t the case.

We may never know what happened behind those closed doors. City Council member Greg Taylor lamented the lack of “transparency” in the trustees’ decision. The trustees said they listened to the community. What they didn’t choose to do was hear the collective wisdom of those who have only the best in mind for the college and Renton.

There was talk that the governor-appointed trustees simply are out of touch with the Renton community. If this was the City Council or any other elected body, the community could simply throw out the bunch in the next election.

Sadly, the community has no oversight over a board that can decide, without offering a reason, to fire a successful college president. But something should have been obvious to the board when an important leader in the community comes under attack. The community fights back.

Bressler offered a way out, a way to resolve any differences that existed, a way to improve communication. He acted like a leader. It was the board that chose not to grab the olive branch in his hand.

Mayor Denis Law didn’t get his wish when he asked that the issues separating the board and Bressler be resolved in a way that “avoids damage to the reputation of Renton Technical College, Dr. Bressler and board members.”

What happened on Aug. 11 is not a black mark on Don Bressler’s career. It IS a black stain on the reputation of the RTC trustees. While that is true, it’s also best to let the rhetoric stop.

Now the search begins for a new president, a costly venture at a time when most candidates are settling in for a new months-long school year and in no mood to move.

Will someone want to move to a college where the motivations of policy leaders are suspect or at least never articulated? The trustees will face the question again, “Why did you fire Don Bressler?”


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