“This Won’t Be Forgotten”: Leadership Vote Divides Board of Trustees

A contentious COD board of trustees meeting saw sharp exchanges as members clashed over the election of new leadership, exposing deep divisions within the board.

Devin Oommen, Staff Writer

Tempers flared at the most recent COD board of trustees meeting during exchanges between board members while voting for new board leadership positions.

The board holds an organizational meeting annually to elect its executive leadership team. Some members of the board said their perspectives were not considered in choosing the new team. 

“I cannot support the election of Christine Fenne for chair. I really wish I could, in good conscience, support the board’s new leadership team,” said outgoing Board Chair Maureen Dunne. “I’ve always strongly believed that effective governance depends upon diversity of thought, and no executive leadership team can be effective without involving a wide range of perspectives and values.”

Board of trustee elections are nonpartisan and do not include a candidate’s political party affiliation on the ballot, but members are affiliated with political parties or have perspectives that align with the values of a party. The board’s new leadership consists of Fenne, Heidi Holan, and newly elected Trustee Andrew Manno, who are all affiliated with the Republican Party or have right-leaning values. For the past two years, the board’s leadership has included Dunne, who is independent or center-left, along with Holan and Fenne. 

In 2021, the election of Howard and Appel shifted the majority of the board to left-leaning or center-left-leaning members. The result of the ‘23 municipal election shifted the majority to right-leaning members. Dunne said the previous team was intentionally structured to consist of members whose views represented both major political parties. 

Holan and Trustee Annette Corrigan objected to members giving comments during their votes, but they were overruled by Dunne. Corrigan said it was improper for Dunne to comment before her vote. 

“It’s too bad you couldn’t do the same thing, the respect we showed you when the new board members came in two years ago and supported who you wanted. Too bad that couldn’t happen tonight,” said Corrigan.

“We should have all been included in the table, and our opinions should have all mattered,” said Dunne. “Two years ago we fought hard- ” 

Corrigan interjected, saying, “Our arms were twisted two years ago. Let’s be honest about it.”

Corrigan’s comments referenced the board’s organizational meeting in 2021. At that meeting, Corrigan nominated Dunne to be board chair, Dunne nominated Fenne for vice chair, and outgoing trustee Dan Markwell nominated Heidi Holan to be board secretary.

Dunne said that team was chosen based on a compromise. “It wasn’t about who I wanted,” said Dunne. “I was asked to do that role even though I was too busy to do it.” 

“I disagree,” said Corrigan. 

Student Trustee Ruju Ria voted “yes” to the vote for Fenne, and abstained from voting for Holan and Manno. Trustees Florence Appel, Nick Howard and Dunne were all “no” votes on the motion to confirm Fenne as board chair.        

“I vote no because we really strive to have a balanced executive team, and we were thwarted throughout the entire process the last few weeks,” said Howard. “It’s been very frustrating. This is supposed to be a rejuvenating and refreshing participation and it’s been somewhat depressing.”

While board members vote on the leadership in an official capacity at the organizational meeting, they deliberate amongst themselves leading up to the meeting.

“The slate of candidates we are being asked to vote on tonight arises from a seriously flawed process that disregarded the opinions and concerns of all trustees,” said Appel. “As a result, I cannot support the election of Christine Fenne for chair.”

Howard, Appel and Dunne all voted “present” on the votes for Holan and Manno.

Corrigan was heard whispering, “This won’t be forgotten,” to Howard on a hot mic after the “present” votes.