By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.
VICTORY TWP. — Charles Dillon, president of West Shore Community College, has been placed on administrative leave, pending investigation by the board, in relation to his recent drunk driving arrest.
The board of trustees met in a special meeting Monday night and spent two hours in closed session. Several people, mostly members of the college staff and faculty, along with Dillon’s wife and two adult daughters, attended.
Upon returning from closed session, trustee Bruce Smith of Scottville, made the following motion:
“In the interest of the health and welfare of West Shore Community College and Dr. Dillon, I move that Dr. Dillon be placed on paid administrative leave pending further investigation by the board of trustees.”
Smith also included three stipulations: Dillon will successfully complete a residential alcohol treatment program, to be followed by a fitness for duty examination; Dillon will waive the physician/patient privilege in favor of the board of trustees and instruct that all records/progress notes be released to the chairman of the board of trustees; the college automobile be returned to campus and remain parked until further notice.
On Wednesday, Aug. 6, Dillon was pulled over by Manistee Police Dept. and arrested for operating a vehicle while under the influence.
According to Dave Bachman, director of Manistee Public Safety, officers were responding to reports of a drunk driver called into 911. Dillon was stopped in the Oleson’s grocery store parking lot, evaluated and arrested. He apparently refused to take a breath test at the scene and therefore a blood draw was taken and sent in to the Michigan State Police crime lab for results.
He was lodged in the Manistee County Jail overnight. He was released on a provisional bond and will most likely be formally arraigned within the next week.
Prior to the board going into closed session, Dillon made a brief statement: “I take full responsibility for my behavior,” Dillon said. “I own it. I am filled with regret. I let down the college, the board, my colleagues and friends who I have worked so hard to build the reputation of this college and most of all, I let down my family. I am so sorry and I ask for your forgiveness.”
Board Chairman James Jensen told the public that the board is taking the matter seriously.
“We will, I assure you, follow applicable laws and practices in how we proceed,” Jensen said. “This has been an all-consuming thing for me and many of the board members these past several days. We are making every effort to keep the community informed in what we are doing.”
Jensen explained to the public how he found out about Dillon being arrested and how he responded following.
“Last Thursday morning, around 8 a.m., I got a call from Dr. Dillon telling me of the incident that occurred… He called every board member and subsequently to that, I called every board member and got the initial board reaction. They, like me, were in a state of shock in trying to figure out what was going on. I decided the appropriate thing to do was to put together a meeting of the executive committee. We met Thursday afternoon and drafted a statement to go out to the press. Late in the day the statement was issued.”
Jensen said he then met with the college’s administrators on Friday and then met with representatives of the support staff this morning. He said he will be meeting with representatives of the faculty Tuesday; that meeting has been delayed because the college’s faculty is on summer break.
“I have discussed this matter twice with legal counsel and will be sharing that information with the board.”
Jensen said holding the meeting tonight was the earliest the board could meet under the provisions of the Michigan Open Meetings Act.
Four people spoke during public comment at the beginning of the meeting.
“I’ve known Chuck Dillon for more than 15 years,” said Jeannette Grove of Manistee, who added that she is a neighbor and friend of Dillon. “I worked on the (college) foundation board with him and worked briefly as his interim director of public information. At Dr. Dillon’s request I have assisted several times on millage campaigns… I have consistently found him to be of the highest moral character. I know he has regrets… If I were in your position I would not take any action that would affect his ability to lead this college. We will not find a more worthy or effective president than Charles Dillon.”
“I came to let you know how important Dr. Dillon has been to this college and my success at this college,” said Chaz Mertes of Ludington. “He has been consistently involved, in my case the arts. That is something for me a huge reason to go to this college and continue to go to college in general.”
“I am an employee here at West Shore and have worked at the college for 28 years,” said Irma Hinojosa of Hart. “I hold Dr. Dillon with the highest regard as a friend and colleague. It could have happened to any one of us. Any one of us could have done this. He is a true leaders and has been here for us.”
“Dr. Dillon is West Shore Community College,” said Nick Swan of Hamlin Township, who also teaches adjunct at the college. “Everybody makes mistakes. If this would have happened to Joe Blow — it could have happened the third time — it would get swept under the rug. This is ridiculous. They are picking on a man simply because he has some status. Is this bad? Yes. It’s bad. People could have gotten killed. There could have been an insurance problem. If we have a building with a broken roof you fix it and try to make sure it doesn’t leak again. I think there should be some kind of reprimand but certainly don’t think we need to throw out a good person and disgrace West Shore Community College any more.”
“On Friday I was in the town of Ludington shopping and Dr. Dillon was the main topic of discussion with his drunk driving,” said Nancy Stephens of Ludington. “In speaking with people I heard that he has unjustly fired people. Two people. One was a maintenance worker and another was a highly qualified woman with a desk job. I also heard a comment that Dr. Dillon has the board in his back pocket. I am personally circulating a petition that the board take disciplinary action against Dr. Dillon.”
Following the motion to suspend Dillon, three trustees spoke.
“This was not an easy decision and not an easy motion,” trustee Richard Wilson of Manistee said. “We are concerned for Dr. Dillon. He has been a long time friend and fellow colleague. I think, personally speaking, I’m very concerned for his health and well being. I don’t think he’s in a good place right now. I look forward to the place where I can put my arms around him and welcome him back to being the leader he can be.”
“I think the college has been a great place and will continue to be a great place,” trustee Steve Urka of Ludington said. “The leadership is in place by design that will take us through this. We are taking this very seriously and I think we are handling it correctly at this point.”
Chairman James Jensen said the process has been difficult.
“This was made on the basis of what we believe is best for West Shore Community College. I want to express that concern. We are doing what is best for this college and doing what’s best for the people we serve in this community. I felt we needed to do something as soon as possible. We are committed to try to help our friend, Dr. Charles Dillon, to get through this.”
Jensen said the interim president of the college would be appointed during the board of trustee’s next regularly scheduled board meeting, Monday, Aug. 18 at 4 p.m.