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Vince Sanders sits on the edge of a bow-bottomed couch in his river-rattish bungalow, hunched over the only new thing here -- a shiny Realistic microrecorder.
He fast forwards, stops, plays and then pushes fast forward again."Ah, now come on, Tony. I know your juicy words are in there."
Vince Sanders, co-editor of the college newspaper and self-anointed First Amendment champion of this booming high-country town, doesn't like Tony Decker. Sanders feels Decker is, along with the college president, Doreen Dailey, a covertly Machiavellian corporate-style dissent-crusher who in three years has turned an intellectual marketplace into a Stalinist anxiety mill. And he believes his tape recordings of several meetings at the college substantiate his claims.
"Faculty and students no longer have a voice," Sanders says in a thick, Missouri backcountry drawl. "There is a cry for help. It's my duty to help."
By help, he means getting the word out to the taxpayers of Yavapai County about several problems he believes are fracturing Yavapai Community College. He believes the local media are too pro-administration to speak the truth. So, in the college newspaper, the Rough Writer, he has written:
That surveys prove the faculty of the college overwhelmingly feel persecuted and ignored by Doreen Dailey and the board;
That Dailey has consistently used Gestapo tactics to squelch dissenting voices and punish opposing opinions on campus;
That because of Sanders' articles, Dailey is now trying to gain editorial control of the college newspaper;
That college administrators may be illegally stonewalling Sanders' efforts to receive documentation of more than $2 million in what he and some faculty members believe are misspent consulting fees.
Besides denying the charges made in Vince Sanders' newspaper articles, Dailey and her supporters, and even some nonsupporters, have a few charges to throw back at Sanders. Basically, his detractors believe he's a mean-spirited, unprofessional, egomaniacal muckraker who lacks skill, style, good taste and ethics. And they're sick to death of the way this 41-year-old ex-con, ex-cokehead, ex-drunk, partially born-again redneck turned Bob Woodward marches around all puffy-chested, brandishing with sanctimonious glee his shiny little Realistic microrecorder.
"Bunch of butt-lickers," he says as he listens to some of his detractors on tape. "These people are bad news. They hate my tape recorder because my tape recorder means accountability."
The tape holds dialogue from an emergency meeting in January in which more than 100 faculty and staff members aired complaints to two board members of Yavapai Community College. On the tape, passionate, quivering voices -- ostensibly the teachers -- claim that Dailey has stopped listening to faculty members and has created an environment of fear. The board members say they have tried to keep communication lines open and that there have been misunderstandings. Then Tony Decker mentions the importance of unity, because a $69 million bond issue will be going to the voters of Yavapai County in November. (Yavapai taxpayers are renowned for their stinginess toward education.)
But his message carries a veiled threat.
"If we don't do this [win the bond election], we're in trouble," Decker says on the tape. "And the board is going to have to make some nasty decisions."
"Nasty decisions," Sanders says to his recorder. "That's code for firing the faculty members he and Doreen don't like."
He fast forwards again and stops.
"The other board members are mad they couldn't be here," Decker tells the faculty and staff members. "They're not here because we would have had to post the meeting. Then we would have had every media person here from this entire county."
"It just kind of shows the whole attitude around this place about the open-meeting laws and the First Amendment," Sanders says. "This administration hates the First Amendment. And everything bad that has come to pass has come to pass because they have no respect for people's right to free speech."
Sanders stands up from his couch clutching his back and walks slowly toward the kitchen. He's suffered a broken back and pelvis, had several knee replacements, and he now has a ruptured disc in his neck. His body is a thin rack of bones wrapped in sinewy Marine muscles now beat out of plumb and sucked of suppleness by bad living. He reaches into the freezer, pulls out a pack of Winstons and limps back to the couch.
"Now for some irony," he says.
In 1997, Doreen Dailey received an e-mail from a "George Orwell" that read: "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face -- forever."
It was a paraphrase of a Thought Police comment in Orwell's "1984," the quintessential satire of authoritarianism.
But the quote was taken as a threat against Dailey and helped set off an investigation of several faculty members. The strong-arm nature of the investigation and the lingering suspicions on both sides have festered on the campus for three years.
"I will never ever condone threatening somebody's life!" Decker says to faculty members as the debate crescendos. "That will never happen!"
"Even I know that ain't a death threat, and I'm supposed to be stupid," Sanders says. "It was exactly the opposite. It was an anguished cry from a victim. But they used it and claimed it was a death threat so they could make her a martyr and clean house.