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Nassau Community College trustees move to replace ailing colleague

Mary Adams looks on during the Nassau Community

Mary Adams looks on during the Nassau Community College Board of Trustees meeting on October 10, 2012. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Two weeks after failing to coalesce around a candidate for president, Nassau Community College trustees are moving to replace a respected trustee, who, because of failing health, has been unable to attend a single board meeting since August 2013.

Mary Adams, 82, of Roosevelt, a retired teacher long active in civic affairs, initially was appointed to her post by Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994. She was reappointed by former County Executive Thomas Suozzi and remains the board's chair emerita.

Fellow trustees, administrators, teachers and friends say Adams' absence on the 10-member board has been felt.

"Mrs. Adams is one of the sharpest women I've known ever to be involved in public service," said the Rev. Reginald Tuggle, a pastor and retired NCC administrator who visited Adams in a nursing home last week.

Had she been able, Tuggle and others close to Adams said, Adams likely would have cast the deciding vote for a permanent NCC president -- which could have spared NCC a planned third search.

Before her health began failing, Adams supported acting president Kenneth Saunders -- who was one of two remaining finalists in the second search.

Saunders was not among the finalists in the first presidential search, which began in 2012. Early on, the process was roiled by accusations that the search committee unfairly was excluding ALANA, a group representing NCC minority faculty, staff and students. In a 2013 interview with Newsday, Saunders, who is black, said he'd been treated unfairly and with disrespect by the search committee.

In May 2013, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher recommended a new search, calling the integrity of the first "beyond the point of repair." In September 2013, Adams joined fellow trustees in voting to disband the search committee.

The college launched its second search in 2014. And Saunders ended up as one of two finalists voted upon by trustees. In a second vote, according to trustees, Saunders garnered five votes to the other remaining candidate's four.

But Saunders needed six votes to win the post.

Trustee Anthony Cornachio said he believed that an Adams vote for Saunders might not necessarily have made a difference, however.

That's because, Cornachio said, he believes that a student trustee's vote for Saunders should not have been allowed -- since the student missed some candidate interviews.

Cornachio said he did not lodge a complaint on the matter because no candidate got six votes: "It didn't matter."

The board last week sent a letter to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, along with the legislature's presiding officer, Legis. Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), and minority leader, Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead), saying that it had deemed Adams' seat to be vacant because she had missed more than four consecutive board meetings.

"Due to declining health and other personal issues, Trustee Adams has not been able to attend board meetings . . . it is with great sadness that at this time the board does not think that the situation will be improving," according to the letter.

Adams' family could not be reached for comment.

Why did it take almost two years for the college to make that move, to make sure that NCC had a full board? Especially since Adams' illness had kept her away from 22 meetings, including every one in 2014 and, thus far, in 2015, too?

Jorge Gardyn, the board's chair, and other trustees said that initially they believed the board would have to seek Adams' resignation -- which they didn't want to do because they hoped her health would improve to the point where she could return.

By late 2014, Gardyn said, the board drafted a letter to Nassau. But that letter was delayed because, according to Cornachio, he wanted to research the issue because he believed Adams was a state rather than a county appointee.

But NCC officials later determined that, as a county appointee, Adams was covered under Nassau's charter, which allows an appointee's seat to be declared vacant after four consecutive absences. Adams had missed her fourth meeting in October 2013.

Last week, Gardyn acknowledged that the county charter applied. "We lost time because we were barking up the wrong tree in thinking that we had to have a resignation," he said.

Meanwhile, NCC continues to have a board vacancy and, more importantly, no permanent president.

Last week, faculty leaders asked that trustees bar Saunders from applying -- for a third time -- to be permanent president. Gardyn said a decision has yet to be made on the matter.

Which once again leaves Saunders in limbo. When he was named acting president in 2013, he was supposed to serve a one-year term or until a new president was selected, whichever came first. Saunders said last week that he is awaiting word on what will come next.

Meanwhile, the search for more candidates for NCC president goes on, even as Nassau seeks a replacement for Adams. Mangano is said to be carefully considering candidates worthy of being Adams' successor.


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