Stop the Press

Student newspaper editor takes issue with Yavapai Community College president.

Dailey says she had three flat tires from nails. White mice were found in her office. She received an e-mail saying, "The clock is striking twelve."

"I'm sorry, but when you're a single parent living alone, these kinds of things can scare you," she says.

Then, in 1997, came the e-mail from "George Orwell." The school's human resources director approached the board of directors, including the newly elected Tony Decker, and suggested that actions be taken to find the culprit.

Vince Sanders distributes the Rough Writer to Diana Hahn of Diana’s Butcher Block Salon in Black Canyon City.
Paolo Vescia
Vince Sanders distributes the Rough Writer to Diana Hahn of Diana’s Butcher Block Salon in Black Canyon City.

"At that point," Dailey says, "the HR director says to the board, "Look, with what's happened to her, if something actually happens to her, her heirs would be rich.' The board hired the private investigator. It's simple: The board was just concerned with "What next?'"

Faculty members were summoned to a room without being told why. They were asked not to bring their direct supervisor. When they arrived, they were questioned at length by a lawyer, the interim human resources director and board member Tony Decker.

"It was a criminal investigation in which no police were brought in," says Susan Lange, the director of Yavapai's creative writing program. "It was very Kafka-esque -- being yanked into a room for unknown reasons and interrogated about things you know nothing about.

"When I suggested to one administrator that there might be nothing to all this, they said to me: "Maybe you don't know there's a conspiracy. Maybe the conspiracy is so secret that those in the conspiracy don't know there's a conspiracy.'"

Lange was visited by a person claiming to be interested in becoming a student. In fact, it was the private investigator.

"It was a witch hunt."

Lange and Verbout were the only current faculty members who would go on the record with New Times about conditions at Yavapai Community College.

Three others who were interviewed say those who question Dailey's policies publicly end up without jobs. Those three say they could not afford to lose their jobs.

"They'll probably cut my programs for talking," Lange says. "Things are really awful up here. But somebody has to talk.

"That's why, even with his flaws, Vince Sanders is so important," she says. "He's been putting some hard issues out to people and keeping them out there.

"I just wish he was a little more thoughtful sometimes."

"Yavapai College Board Member Threatens Rough Writer Editors With Lawsuit: Lighten Up Mr. Tony Decker"

-- Rough Writer, May, 1999

Vince Sanders wasn't writing for the paper in the spring of 1999. He didn't think he was good enough. Instead, he served as a business manager and occasional cartoonist. His drawings were primitive, but the satire was sharp. He began receiving compliments on his work. And, like many an emerging editorial cartoonist, he soon received his first threat of a libel suit.

Tony Decker felt Sanders had misrepresented his opinions about drug testing. Sanders felt Decker overreacted by threatening libel. Sanders wrote a column about libel case law, and his writing career and battle with Decker were launched.

Writing is a painful process for Sanders. Physically, his back seizes up in a chair and he needs to pop 800 milligrams of ibuprofen to withstand the pain. The ruptured disc in his neck has left his arm numb. Developmentally, he's dyslexic and is woefully short of "book learning." He can spend hours slogging through one paragraph, he says.

"Sometimes it's hell," he says.

But, as he continued to write, people started paying attention. He says Dailey definitely started paying attention, because that fall, she appointed a new community representative to the Rough Writer publication board. That "community member" was Melody Riefsnyder, Yavapai college's marketing director, who, among other duties, writes press releases for the college.

"They wanted the newspaper to become a public relations rag," Sanders says.

Sanders and his co-editors, Matt Dean and Denyse Lutz, sent a letter of protest to Dailey.

The letter was ignored. Dailey says Riefsnyder's background as an attorney and a reporter for a newspaper in Philadelphia made her the best person for the position.

Riefsnyder adds that she is a private contractor, not an employee of the college. And when it comes down to it, she says, any "community member" with journalism experience in Prescott would somehow have the appearance of being beholden to the college.

"Every media is already accepting advertising dollars from the college," she says. "Whoever is on the board, they'd have the same complaint."

By Christmas break, many saw Sanders as one of the few objective, concerned voices in Prescott.

In early January, Sanders says, three faculty members called him at home. They told him two board members had invited members of the faculty and staff to discuss concerns about the school's master plan, which, in effect, meant Dailey's vision for the future of Yavapai. That vision would be financed by the November bond issue.

A few faculty members wanted Sanders there as a safeguard. They felt Tony Decker was about to threaten them.

"They [board members] wanted faculty to shut up and get in line, and if they didn't, and if the bond fails, they'll pay," Sanders says. "And sure enough, that's what they said."

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