Stop the Press
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."
He's searching for the voice of Tony Decker, a member of the Yavapai Community College Governing Board.
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.
Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers
TicketsWed., Nov. 2, 7:00pm
Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
TicketsThu., Nov. 3, 7:00pm
Arizona State University Sun Devils Hockey vs. University of Michigan
TicketsFri., Nov. 4, 7:05pm
2016 Charles Schwab Cup Championship
TicketsWed., Nov. 9, 9:00am
"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."
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.
"How is that for irony?"
"Someone threatened to stomp on her face, forever, with a boot."
-- the Prescott FreePress, June 1997
Until last year, Vince Sanders didn't know much about the First Amendment. He was more an expert in fisticuffs, contraband, prison food, x-rays and coma-inducing 190-proof hooch.Sanders grew up in Independence, Missouri. His grandfather, a junkyard owner and hunting guide for Harry S Truman, was Sanders' best pal and father figure because his father, a traveling musician, was rarely around.
Sanders' grandfather, who lived outside of town, was also a bootlegger. At age 12, Sanders began learning the art of turning corn into moonshine.
That same year, 1970, some Hells Angels moved in down the street from Sanders. He noticed the Hells Angels smoked a lot of a plant that he had seen growing in abundance at his grandfather's farm.
So he and his grandfather began harvesting "ditchweed."
"I showed my grandpa the wad of cash, and he was just amazed," Sanders says. "He told me that, for our efforts, he never made as much money on the moonshine as he did baling that ditchweed."
With such pressing extracurricular activities, Sanders wasn't much into school. At age 17 he dropped out and joined the Marines. He wanted to go to Vietnam and "fight for my country."
But the war ended before he finished basic training, and he quickly became bored with noncombat base assignments. So he drank, did whatever drug he could find and started fights. He kept ending up behind bars. He narrowly escaped a dishonorable discharge.
After the Marines, Sanders bounced around the country doing odd jobs and getting thrown into more jails. In Hollywood, he worked as an usher in a porno theater. He worked for printing companies in Missouri and Texas. He was in Vegas for awhile.
Then he showed up in Prescott in 1991 because it had a V.A. hospital. He needed "to dry out."
In April of 1995, Sanders had his girlfriend drive him to the V.A. hospital again to dry out. There he assaulted a nurse, a doctor and two V.A. police officers. Prescott police were called and Sanders was subdued with four shots from a taser gun. He woke up sore and strapped to a gurney in a rubber room. He decided he may in fact have problems.
Sanders says before his first AA meeting at the hospital, he began cursing God and, between f-words, asked God for a sign that there was some point to his life. Sanders knew there was going to be a drawing at the meeting to win an AA book. He told God that if He let him win the book, he would take that as a sign, stop drinking and start making some good of himself.
Sanders didn't win the book. Frustrated and threatening benders and atheism, he returned to his bed. There, on the pillow, was the book.
"The guy who won the book, he said as soon as he touched it, he heard God's voice as clear as day saying, "Put it on Vince's pillow,'" Sanders says. "That did it for me."
"I've been sober for five years now," Sanders says. "I never thought I could do it. But after that, boom, I've done it. And I'm damn proud and damn thankful."
But he wasn't certain about his calling. He continued working part-time at a livestock sale barn. Then three years ago, while sorting cattle in an alley behind the barn, he was knocked down and trampled. He broke his back and pelvis. He couldn't do manual labor anymore. So he decided he'd start taking classes at Yavapai Community College.
He took a shine to journalism. He devoured books. He attended several journalism seminars, taking special interest in legal issues ("My life had been a damn courtroom drama, after all"). He became an honors student and earned a trip to Rome.
Last spring, he became co-editor of the student newspaper. And within the first month, he was beginning to help all hell break loose.
He had found his calling, he says. He was not born to defend America with the sword. He was born to defend America with the pen.
"In two articles, "Faculty and staff express distrust of Dailey Administration' and "College may be involved in felony,' Sanders is guilty of the penultimate journalistic sin -- misuse of a public forum for personal ego enhancement."
-- Art Dykhuis, letter to the editor, Rough Writer, April 2000
In the early 1970s, Yavapai Community College's president was accused of ignoring and oppressing the faculty. The board replaced that president with Joe Russo, who, according to several retired faculty members, created an environment in which administration and faculty worked together to solve problems and build programs.Even Russo's supporters admit he wasn't much of a visionary or leader or administrator. But he cared about people, he was a good listener and he was as committed as any teacher to offering a nurturing environment for learning -- for both teachers and students.
When Russo retired, Paul Walker was brought in as president. The board told him to make the college more efficient and to create a more professional model of governance at the college. Yavapai Community College was growing. It couldn't be run like a one-room school any longer.
Walker went about restructuring, but did it in a manner that so eroded morale on the campus that in 1992, 66 of the 78 faculty members of the college voted "no confidence" in his administration.
As the faculty and administration battled on legitimate issues of governance, a subcurrent of anonymous threats, pranks and accusations flowed among friends and foes of Walker. Tires were slashed on both sides of the issue, nails were left under tires, nasty cartoons were distributed, and most everyone involved received some sort of anonymous threat.
David Hochstettler, a retired Yavapai English professor, summed up that strange year this way in a 1997 letter to the Prescott Courier:
"I think what really happened was that the media circus of 1992 drew all kinds of people into the conflict: pro-faculty, pro-administration, informed and uninformed, well-intentioned and malicious, stable and unstable, principled and unprincipled."
On campus, the student newspaper began reporting on the fight. Student editors also began digging into some of the accusations being made by faculty and community members. The monthly paper became increasingly negative toward the Walker administration.
So Walker began pulling the papers from newsstands around campus, saying he was protecting the students. Then he shut down the paper.
Soon after, students started an underground newspaper. Merrill Glustrom, who ran the college's Learning Center, helped the students put together the newspaper.
"They were committed to getting the word out on what was happening at the campus," says Glustrom, who now works for a community college in Colorado. "I'm a real strong believer in the marketplace of ideas. So I helped."
After Walker left, the new president, Doreen Dailey, approached Glustrom in 1993 about starting up a new college newspaper. She asked him to research college newspaper models and policies from around the country and bring a recommendation. He did, a set of "boilerplate" policies were put in place, a publications board was established and the fledgling Mile High Echoes appeared.
"At that point, I thought Doreen Dailey was the answer to all of Yavapai's problems," Glustrom said. "Good God, was I wrong."
"Dailey has done an outstanding job at YC. Her record speaks for itself. . . . She has in place the staff to take YC to new levels of excellence except, of course, for the handful of dissidents who still want to play their childish games."
-- Jim Garner, editor,
Prescott Courier, 1997
Doreen Dailey moved with her daughter from Oregon to Prescott just before the fall session of 1993. Before school started, she had already received her first anonymous threat."Don't think you can sneak into town," she says one letter said. Another: "This is the first of several evaluations."
The harassment intensified as she began implementing her policies, she says.
Dailey believes the ill will at Yavapai is "identical to what you'd find on 50 percent of college campuses in the year 2000." Community colleges are increasingly trying to be responsive to the public, she says, and the public is increasingly pushing for colleges to provide practical skills for career training in increasingly high-tech-reliant fields.
"The old-timers talk about "the family,' but this family is now a $40 million operation with 1,000 employees," she says. "Are there growing pains? Sure there are. . . . So many things are happening. So many decisions are being made. And one of the problems is this: We no longer have the luxury of debate for three or four years.
"But that doesn't mean for a second that we're not valuing the humanities or anybody's input," she says.
Contrary to Sanders' assertions, Dailey has been an immensely popular president, says Melody Riefsnyder, the marketing director for the college.
"I think the college is very cohesive because [the faculty and staff] believe in [Dailey's] master plan," Riefsnyder says. "They have all gone on the record in support of her.
"Never before have I ever seen the faculty so behind something that this college wants to do. I'm truly grateful for their support."
Riefsnyder proves her point with a memorandum sent to the board by Mary Verbout, the faculty association president. In April, Verbout wrote:
"On behalf of the creative, energetic, enthusiastic, dedicated members of the staff and faculty, I'd like to clearly state that we support the bond and the opportunities that it will provide us to continue serving the students of Yavapai County."
Dailey detractors see a much different picture. They felt she was monomaniacally pursuing grand new programs and buildings to pad her résumé at the expense of core curricula and the welfare of faculty and students. And when the faculty complained, they were ignored and then subjected to accusations and investigations.
"If people got sideways with the administration, they'd come after them with Gestapo tactics," said Larry Strom, who retired last year after 23 years as a professor at Yavapai. "They chopped a bunch of heads off -- Rubin Banuelos, Merrill Glustrom, some others. People were afraid."
In the mid-1990s, a new underground newsletter called The Phantom appeared. The Phantom savaged Dailey's policies and even accused her of financial misdeeds.
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.
"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."
Well, sort of. Decker was asking for unity. But that comment, "And the board is going to have to make some nasty decisions," was interpreted as another in what faculty members say has been a long line of veiled threats.
"There's a feeling we're getting set up to take the fall for the bond issue," says Verbout, who teaches English at the college.
Then, as the conversation heated up, as faculty members charged that they would spend years on committees established by Dailey only to have their recommendations disappear, that they've lived for years in fear, and that because of this environment, "anybody who can leave is leaving," Decker got irritated. And in his anger, he once again intimated that there was a conspiracy of faculty who had gone about subverting Dailey, and it all culminated with the face-stamping boot George Orwell quote that was interpreted as "the death threat."
"He just threw a match on that gasoline again," Verbout says. "Please, Tony, don't mention the boot."
Sanders came away with a tapeful of controversy. He wrote a story for the February issue. And that story set off a firestorm on campus.
Many praised him for finally showing what's really happening at Yavapai. Some damned him for sensationalism -- turning a grievance session into mutiny.
Others were just scared. Some of the faculty members who spoke freely in the meeting didn't consider it a public meeting. They saw their angry quotes in the newspaper, and, because of the very environment they were damning, they feared for their careers.
"A lot of board members and faculty members were very upset, very hurt," Verbout says. "I was angry and Vince is like, "If they fire you, just sue. They can't do that.' He thinks it's that easy. It isn't that easy. Sometimes you need to be able to hash things out and reach a consensus without it being splashed across the newspaper."
"I didn't know the tenure only protected faculty, not staff," Sanders says. "I put some people in jeopardy without realizing it. I wouldn't have put them out there like I did if I had known they didn't have that protection."
But Sanders remains resolute in his convictions. So much so that he has increased the circulation of the paper from 2,000 to 10,000. Instead of delivering just on campus, Sanders spends three days a week distributing the newspaper to government offices, cafes and convenience stores -- more than 260 locations -- throughout an area the size of Rhode Island.
"He's the beacon of truth in Yavapai County," says one bar owner in downtown Prescott. "Vince is a new man."
In March, the Rough Writer hit newsstands with a large, front-page headline saying the college may be involved in a felony.
Sanders had requested a detailed accounting of consulting fees from 1994 to 2000. Instead, Sanders received what he perceived to be conflicting stories on the whereabouts of those records.
Terry Bowmaster, Yavapai's finance director, told him: "We have summary records, but we don't have the details. It is on a software system that does not exist anymore. So what we have is summary reports."
The college's advancement director, John Coomer, said: "But if we did have to get the data for some legal reason, the data does exist in our backup records. We just don't have the system."
"Hey," Sanders says now, "my request was a legal reason."
Under state law, the college must retain financial records of contracts for six years after the contracts expire. It is a felony to destroy those records.
But Bowmaster and college officials contend Sanders mistook, or intentionally twisted, Bowmaster's explanation. College officials contend the information would be difficult and time-consuming to retrieve. But it definitely does exist.
"The Rough Writer newspaper inaccurately reported that Yavapai College may be involved in a felony," Coomer said in a college press release after the story. "The college does maintain all records required by law. It is unfortunate that student reporters failed to verify facts and chose to take information out of context to falsely accuse college officials."
The press release, which included the line, "The college governing board funds the student newspaper to the tune of $10,000," was written by Melody Riefsnyder. The press release was republished nearly verbatim as the top story in the following Sunday's Prescott Courier.
Sanders and Bowmaster have since volleyed letters regarding a fair price for copying and researching the financial records under state public records laws. That issue remains unresolved.
Soon after the story, Dailey distributed a memorandum to "high-level College Employees." It explained her interpretations of the First Amendment.
"Speech that causes disharmony among colleagues is entitled to little or no First Amendment protection," she wrote. It was a reminder to high-ranking administrative staff, Dailey says, and was not intended for circulation to faculty.
On April 3, a memorandum arrived at the student newspaper and faculty senate. In it, Dailey said she was appointing a committee to establish a new advisory board to "develop a more comprehensive set of guidelines to assist student reporters and editors."
The memorandum ended: "We would like the committee to begin its work as soon as possible and develop guidelines for the newspaper to be in place by July."
Dailey says the committee's goal will be to review outdated newspaper guidelines, to look at how to improve journalism education at the college and to establish a new publication board at the college's other campus in Clarkdale, which has a paper but no publication board. The committee will not replace the Prescott campus publication board.
The committee will consist of several experienced journalists with no connection to the college, Dailey and Riefsnyder say. And both say they had been thinking about creating such a committee for several years.
"It will be people who also will be interested in defending the First Amendment," Riefsnyder says. "We need to provide students with the best possible instruction. That's all this is about."
Verbout and other faculty members aren't so sure.
"We wrote back that this seemed to be re-creating something that doesn't need re-creating," Verbout says. "Then we were told we misunderstood it. It felt like somebody was blowing smoke."
To Sanders, it sounded like the Rough Writer would be gutted this summer. So he published Dailey's letter. He called First Amendment attorneys in Phoenix who now, as one of the attorneys puts it, are "watching with interest what happens with this case."
Sanders then published the summary of The Britton Report, a 1997 $40,000 study conducted by counselors to assess the relationship among faculty, staff and administration at the college. The report was damning of Dailey's policies and tactics, and, because of that, Sanders says, the report was buried.
"I got the only copy left," Sanders says.
As school ends, so does Sanders' stint as editor of the Rough Writer.
"You don't think a little thing like that would kill the truth, do you?" he asks.
In early May, Sanders found a building to rent near downtown Prescott. By the time school starts in the fall, he hopes to have his own newspaper up and running in the building.
"I got this journalism stuff in my blood," he says. "The people in this area need somebody who will give them the straight truth."
A top concern: watching the goings-on at Yavapai Community College.
The faculty will be watching, too. Ten of the 80 remaining full-time faculty members are leaving this spring, Verbout says. Many more want to quit or are biding their time until retirement. And many more may quit if the administration "does what it always does in the summer," Verbout says.
Every summer, when faculty is away, that's when the big bad stuff happens," she says. "Something will probably happen with the paper while we're away. And we're afraid, too, that division chairs, who are faculty, will be replaced with administrators so that nobody will be talking at all anymore."
"We'll be watching -- we'll keep the light on all this," Sanders says, holding up his microrecorder. "There will be accountability."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.