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Written by John Face
Photo Credit John Face
October 7, 2021
On October 6 Albion College released a document (seen below in its entirety) that was titled FAQ but is more of a position paper with some items in it that are less than true. I will attempt to address some of the points in this FAQ, the document is long and goes from topic to topic. It starts with where the college stands on the school bond proposal and actually ends with the author explaining why Mathew Johnson doesn’t drink alcohol.
There are several claims in the FAQ that cause concern. One of the biggest is the colleges use of “YMCA” in this document. The FAQ says “greater access to the possible YMCA location in Washington Gardner”. This use of the YMCA name goes directly against requests that College President Mathew Johnson stop using their name from the YMCA Board.
The FAQ discusses surveys done by the school system. They take time to explain in television ad style how the last pollster company is so experienced yet this is what’s claimed, “Ultimately, the survey did not yield accurate and usable data”. Hmmmmmm the data showed that the new elementary school should be built beside the Opportunity High School on Watson Street and that people in general support the Bond proposal.
Other claims which are interesting is one of conflict of interest. OK let’s cut through the smoke and take a look at this.
Albion College has had several employees over the decades serve on the City Council, Andy French being the most recent. These people voted on things that involved the college and at times did not vote, this has never been an issue. Honestly I have no problem that the Mayor’s husband is Director of Campus Safety because that gives her an interesting view of the college/city relationship. So that is not a conflict, it’s legal and is ethical.
The issue that came up earlier this year was with sitting members of Albion City Council, who are not college employees, one of which, former council member Vicky Clark received a no bid contract with the college that gave the appearance of special privilege. The college can state “it’s legal” all day long, which it is, but it’s still a conflict and unethical in my opinion despite what they are telling the public.
Now let’s move on to Richard Lindsey, an attorney for the firm Abbott, Thomson, Mauldin, Parker, Beer and Rick out of Jackson MI. Lindsey is an alumnus of Albion College and is the President of the Marshall Public School board. His law firm, with him acting as lead, is doing work for the college in acquiring property that would be used for the elementary school. Now that would not be an issue nor a conflict of interest at all, he is a contracted employee and it’s legal. This is where the conflict comes:
The college states it wants the new elementary school built beside its campus, preferably near Washington Gardner, it says this in this FAQ below. The conflict with Lindsey is he’s the President of the School Board and is earning money helping the college buy land for the school near Gardner. He then will be voting on where the school will be located if the bond proposal passes. This is from the FAQ below:
“None of the individuals currently being accused of having a conflict of interest can receive any personal benefit as a result of their vote on any proposed issue before either body”
Hard to prove if being given a no bid contract is buying a vote, hard to prove if you are directly benefiting via your contract as a lawyer is buying a vote. There are those with far more knowledge in law looking into that.
The only thing missing from this FAQ are the words “Proposed Response”. Don’t worry those words will be discussed soon by City Watch.
October 6, 2021
Questions about the Proposed School Bond
Questions about Participation of the College in Community Issues
Questions about President Johnson and Dr. O’Neill
Questions about the Proposed School Bond
What is the proposed bond for the Marshall Public Schools (MPS) district?
The Marshall Public Schools 2021 bond is a proposed $45,580,000 bond that will finance
district-wide equipment and infrastructure improvements at Marshall Middle School, Gordon
Elementary School and the Opportunity High School, athletic facility improvements at Marshall
High School and a new elementary school in Albion.
All residents who are registered to vote in Albion and Marshall, including faculty, staff and
students will have the opportunity to vote on the bond, which will be included on the November 2
ballot. You can learn more about the proposed bond on the 2021 MPS bond website.
Does the College support the bond proposal for the Marshall Public Schools district?
The College strongly supports the bond proposal for the Marshall Public Schools district. As an
institution of higher education, we believe that investing in the education of youth in our local
communities of Marshall and Albion is essential. We are eager to continue exploring partnership
possibilities with Kellogg Community College, Marshall Public Schools, Jackson Community
College, and other educational providers in the region to contribute to workforce development
and an expanded set of educational opportunities at the Opportunity High School.
We are also eager to explore new ways to partner with Marshall High School. We enjoy and hope
to expand the Partnership for Albion Community Teachers (PACT) through which the College
has invested over $150,000 to help support the training of Albion College BIPOC students who
want to be teachers in the Marshall Public Schools district. To date, six students have
participated in the program and another student is completing the program this year.
Why is the construction of a new elementary school in Albion important?
The College strongly supports the construction of a new elementary school located in the City
of Albion as part of the bond. Several planned economic development initiatives will create the
opportunity for new families to move to Albion over the next few years including >9000 acres of
solar development, more than $18m of downtown development, planned enrollment growth at the College, and other planned economic development activity. A new elementary school will be
critical to assuring that the majority of the new families associated with this economic growth
settle in Albion. We believe strongly that Albion cannot rebuild its population base without a
new elementary school to support children and families in this community.
Many current families in Albion are sending their elementary students out of the district because
of the conditions of the current elementary school in Albion. Children and teachers in Albion do
not have the same quality facility, educational opportunities, or resources as those in Marshall.
We believe strongly that the commitments made by the Marshall Public School District during
the annexation cannot be kept without investment in a new elementary school in Albion as part
of this bond.
The elementary school is also necessary for the College to remain healthy and grow, providing
more jobs and more economic activity to the City and the region. As the College has diversified
our student body, we have come to understand the best practices for retention and academic
success of our new student population. One key element is the diversification of our faculty and
staff which will necessitate the recruitment of new families into Albion. As the College recruits
and hires new staff and faculty, many from diverse backgrounds and locations across the
country, one of the persistent questions that present itself is “What are the schools like for my
elementary-aged children?” Questions about the inclusivity of the broader community, about the
resources available to families and children, and about the College’s role in building more equity
in the community often come up.
Additionally, college students who engage deeply in long-term community engagement,
committing to a community agency like a school as part of their College experience, enjoy
greater levels of academic success. This generation of college students, like the new staff and
faculty are also asking questions about the College’s role in building more inclusivity and equity
with and in the greater community. The more successful Albion College students are, the
greater the financial and reputational health of the College, and the greater the positive
economic impact the College can have in the City. The success of both the City and the College
relies on this mutual interdependence.
What services will the College provide to a new elementary school if one is built?
We have not produced a list of services and benefits we believe would likely flow from the
College to the elementary school as some have asked for us to do. This is because we have
been listening carefully to the needs and hopes of the community about what the College’s role
might be. From our perspective, the development of these services needs to be done in
partnership with the school district and the broader community as partners where we can learn
about needs and aspirations and develop a shared vision for our partnership.
Nevertheless, as a result of the many community conversations we have been a part of, we are
convinced that there are urgent opportunities for a wide variety of paraprofessional roles
currently not possible with the limited financial resources of the district that college students
could fill with appropriate training and oversight including but not limited to classroom aides,
mentors and tutors, parent engagement coordinators, and after school program facilitators. We
are also convinced that there are many opportunities to collaborate on program enhancements
utilizing College faculty expertise and College facilities like the greenhouse, the Whitehouse
Nature Center, the science complex, the various arts facilities and the library just to name a few.
We know that the closer the school is to the College the better the educational outcomes are
likely to be for the elementary students. This is supported by research that shows that the
involvement of well-trained college students in elementary schools in paraprofessional roles
positively impacts the educational outcomes of students in the school. The closer a school is to
the central campus of a College, the more frequently and more deeply students will engage. A
site that is not adjacent to the College will significantly limit student engagement.
For these reasons we strongly support the bond and the sighting of the school adjacent to the
College. However, we are committed to doing everything we can to support a new elementary
school wherever it is located.
Where will the new elementary school be located? Who will decide this?
Currently, multiple locations are under consideration for the new elementary school in Albion.
One of the proposed sites is adjacent to Washington Gardner on land currently owned by the
College. We have discussed other possible sites on land currently owned by the College that is
also adjacent to the campus. If any of these sites are selected, the College will donate the land
to MPS. MPS will be the sole owner of the land and the new school building and will follow all
required processes in the design and build of the school independent of the College. The
resulting school will be a Marshall Public School and will be under the sole control of the
school district. The College will only play a partnership role, responding to needs identified by
the community as it is able.
While there are multiple options for a new elementary school on land currently owned by the
College and adjacent to campus, we believe that the adjacency to Washington Gardner has
some unique benefits including greater access to healthcare at Munger Place, greater access to
the possible YMCA location in Washington Gardner, proximity to downtown and placement
within the center of the heatmap of school-aged children currently living in Albion.
Is the site adjacent to Washington Gardner environmentally safe?
The site is located at the corner of East Michigan Ave. and Berrien Street and covers the current
and former locations of the State Farm office, Anna’s Flowers, and college property behind
Munger Place. The College is not aware of any reason to suspect that this site is not
environmentally safe. None of this space is part of the former industrial sites further north on
Berrien Street. The College has done environmental testing of the current Washington Gardner site, across the street from the proposed school site, and determined that site has no safety
concerns. MPS will need to complete the required environmental testing of any site considered.
How has Marshall Public Schools collected data on the school bond?
Between April and May of 2021, MPS administered an online survey to gather initial data to
inform decisions around the bond. Unfortunately, the survey was not designed and distributed in
a way that supported the collection of clear, objective data. Specifically, the survey did not
restrict the number of responses per individual and did not track their residency. As a result,
there were multiple documented incidents of individuals answering multiple times and
significantly skewing the data.
President Johnson recommended that Interim Superintendent Becky Jones consult a
professional survey organization to get accurate and usable data and referred her to the Siena
College Research Institute (SCRI), one of the most respected research centers in the country.
SCRI provides polling services for the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and a variety of other
major media outlets as well as state agencies, community organizations, and corporations.
SCRI, in consultation with the Superintendent and other MPS staff, developed the survey. No
member of the College was involved in the development or deployment of the survey. When
asked if the College would pay for the survey, the administration agreed to do so as a means to
support the collection of more accurate and usable data. Ultimately, the survey did not yield
accurate and usable data. You can read more and view the results of both surveys on the 2021
MPS bond website.
Questions about Participation of the College in Community Issues
How does the College safeguard against conflicts of interest?
The College takes seriously its responsibility to maintain active and collaborative relationships
in the local community while maintaining the highest ethical standards. At a recent meeting of
the Albion City Council, Mayor Snyder pointed out that in a small town like Albion, it is important
to understand the precise definition of conflict of interest because it is likely many would have
perceived conflicts. These perceived conflicts, she suggested, are not grounds for limiting the
service of elected officials or there would be few who could serve. Conflicts of interest are
precisely defined in the Code of Ethics of the City Council. However, some individuals in the
community are trying to limit the ability of elected officials (City Councilors and MPS School
Board Members) to vote on public issues the College has expressed an opinion on by alleging
that any relationship they have with the College creates a conflict of interest.
The College does have relationships with many elected officials. These include employment
relationships, charitable relationships, and contractual relationships. This has always been the
case, as is natural in a small town. None of the individuals currently being accused of having a
conflict of interest can receive any personal benefit as a result of their vote on any proposed
issue before either body. Therefore, we strongly believe that none of those relationships
creates a conflict of interest in any currently proposed vote at the City Council or MPS Board.
Why has the College been investing in property in Albion?
The College has been purchasing a variety of properties in different parts of the City. Most of the
property has been offered for sale before we purchase it. In some cases, we have utilized an
attorney to approach property owners to gauge interest in selling. Where property we have
acquired has been occupied by tenants, we have offered to work with tenants to either remain in
their current rented space or to help facilitate moving to a new location.
The College uses a variety of realty agencies and follows ethical standards when acquiring
property. These purchases have been made and are being considered for the following
● The College needs to increase available housing and create surplus housing for students
as we renovate existing properties.
● The College is trying to assist new employees with finding affordable, high-quality
housing in the community to support their engagement in the life of the residential
college. This has been a significant challenge recently, and we are doing everything in
our power to help facilitate access to housing.
● The College may build new academic buildings as part of our future growth.
● The College is interested in creating more appropriate parking options for our students
and in building affordable housing in the community.
Questions about the College Comprehensive Campus Plan
Has the College shared the Comprehensive Campus Plan with members of the community and
incorporated community input?
Yes, the College has shared several drafts of the Comprehensive Campus Plan plan with
members of the community for input. Specifically, the plan has been shared with the City
Council and City Administration, the Economic Development Corporation, and other
stakeholders in the community. Input from those meetings has been considered as the plan was
developed. This fall, we will be publicly sharing the full Comprehensive Campus Plan as part of a
web presence that will feature regular updates.
What is the plan for student housing as part of the Comprehensive Campus Plan?
The College’s Comprehensive Campus Plan includes ideas about the potential renovation and
expansion of student housing. We are aware that our housing must be improved to be reflective
of what students and families expect in the current market. We are evaluating options for a
variety of scenarios to create the required housing needed including adding new buildings,
renovating some of the houses we have acquired for student housing, and renovating the
buildings that currently house the fraternities. Our primary initial goal is to create enough
surplus housing to hold some or all of Wesley Hall open for renovation. We will begin
renovations of currently empty floors of the buildings that house fraternities this fall. We will
continue to update the community as the scenario planning progresses.
Is there enough space on the site of Washington Gardner for a new athletic arena?
Over a year of planning by our architectural and design firms have confirmed that there is more
than enough space to accommodate an athletic arena that would be large enough to be
competitive with the arenas in the MIAA in our new facility. We are currently working to finalize
the design options within the approved budget and hope to be ready to share a more complete
picture of what the Body and Soul Center will look like in the coming months.
What is the timeline for the Washington Gardner as the Body and Soul Center project?
While we have a project timeline that lays the sequence of work out over a 36-48 month period
for the entire redevelopment of Washington Gardner, that timeline does not account for the
potential delays we may face throughout the project. For example, we are currently managing a
delay in the delivery of concrete vaults to complete the extension of steam from the central
steam plant to the construction site. Until supply chains become more predictable, it is more
accurate to share the stages as a set of sequential steps rather than a timeline.
● Stage 1 will be the completion of utilities and infrastructure upgrades necessary to begin
the project as well as site work to prepare the ground and the exterior of the current
structure for the project.
● Stage 2 will be the construction of the addition on the back of the existing structure and
some limited modification of the current building.
● Stage 3 will include the modifications of the current building.
We hope to complete Stage 1 by early Spring 2022 and complete Stage 2 by Spring 2023.
Questions about President Johnson and Dr. O’Neill
How long will President Johnson and Dr. O’Neill be a part of the Albion Community?
At the time of his hire, President Johnson discussed the value of long-term executive leadership
for the stability of the College and the community, and multi-year transformational challenges
faced by the college with the Board of Trustees. President Johnson and Dr. O’Neill made a
commitment to build a life here and have every intention of serving the College for as long as
the Board of Trustees believes their contributions are effective. President Johnson is currently
entering the second year of a five-year contract that can be renewed or extended by the Board of
The Board of Trustees is in strong support of President Johnson’s vision and leadership of the
college. Michael Harrington, Chair of the Board of Trustees, has expressed the unwavering
support of the Board of trustees in letters to Alumni and in his Inauguration Comments.
Why do President Johnson and Dr. O’Neill abstain from drinking alcohol?
President Johnson and Dr. O’Neill have chosen to be in solidarity with members of the
community who chose not to consume alcohol and recreational drugs. People who chose to be
substance-free are often overlooked and excluded from opportunities because they do not
participate in substance use. Nationally 20% of college students chose not to use and many
struggle to find a place where they feel that they belong while at college. Many other staff and
faculty at Albion College have chosen to be substance-free. People choose to be substance-free
for a wide variety of reasons which may include trauma from experiences with addiction in their
family, religious reasons, medical reasons, and their own personal recovery status.
President Johnson and Dr. O’Neill have worked to create the first truly substance-free intentional
community for student housing now located on Burr Oak. This community provides a safe place
for students wishing to live in a fully substance-free place while attending Albion College.
Consumption of alcohol in the presence of President Johnson and Dr. O’Neill during social
functions at which alcohol is provided does not bother them. Their choice is a personal choice
and they respect the personal choices of others who follow the law and the College policies
with regard to alcohol. It is important to them that all feel comfortable in their presence and
that is why they will often work with catering to make alcohol available for those who prefer it
at the social events they host.