When thousands of Umatilla County voters didn’t see any candidates on their ballots for the Blue Mountain Community College Board of Education, the college’s faculty union saw an opportunity.
With no candidates filed for two open seats on the board, the Blue Mountain Faculty Association made last-minute endorsements to two write-in candidates. The two candidates — Dulcie Hays and Scott Wallace — had been laid off by BMCC administrators during previous rounds of budget cuts. With both leading their respective write-in campaigns, Hays and Wallace could soon become the people crafting the budget instead of being beholden to it.
The results of last week’s election are the latest turn in an ongoing fight at the community college between its budget writers and staff.
Hurt by declining enrollment and growing competition from other institutions, BMCC has made several rounds of layoffs over the past several years. The last two workforce reductions have proven especially contentious as the union mobilized to oppose five layoffs in 2022 and 17 pink slips earlier this year as the college decided to shutter its prison education program.
But faculty association President Sascha McKeon said the union didn’t recruit candidates merely to oppose the board or the college administration.
“We’re not seeking to overturn anything by any means, but simply to maintain a diverse outlook that better represents Eastern Oregon as a whole,” she said.
McKeon said the union didn’t begin looking into finding candidates until early May, well after the candidate filing deadline. She said the union was ready to work with whoever ran to replace incumbents Jane Hill and Don Rice, who both voted for budget cuts in the past. But once the union discovered there were no filed candidates, McKeon said members started to put feelers out for recruits.
It was a bit of “dramatic irony,” McKeon said, that the two candidates ended up being laid-off staff.
One of the people who answered the call was Hays, an instructor with the college’s corrections education program. Hays’ 20-year career with BMCC will come to an end in June when the college’s contract with the Oregon Department of Corrections expires. College officials say BMCC will eventually return to state prisons through a Pell grant program, but the GED and adult education programs are over.
Hays ran for Zone 5, a seat based in the western Hermiston area. She said she sought the write-in vote because she wants to increase accountability at the college, not just around the closure of the prison education program, but across the board. Hays ran not only as a soon-to-be-former employee, but as a BMCC graduate who said the college changed her life.
“I still really care about what happens to our community,” she said.
While the Umatilla County Elections Division is still counting ballots, the current tally shows only 72 people voted in the Zone 5 write-in election. Hays is the top candidate with 14 votes, the second place spot going to votes where the person filled in the bubble by the write-in line but otherwise left a blank line.
McKeon said the union liked Hays because of her deep connections with the community and passion for accountability. For Zone 7, a district that includes northern Pendleton, they endorsed Wallace because of his knowledge of budgets and the union contract.
Wallace, a former accounting instructor, was laid off last year. In an email, Wallace wrote that he would be unable to comment because of his current work demands.
The Zone 7 election is slightly more competitive than Zone 5. Wallace is the leader with 92 votes and is one of four candidates with double-digit votes. The low turnout in the write-in elections wasn’t an outlier: Umatilla County’s 12.9% turnout rate is among the lowest in the state this year.
It’ll still be a few more weeks before the elections can be confirmed. The winners of the write-in vote will receive a letter after the election is certified June 6. If they decline the seat or are unable to serve, the board will get a chance to appoint a temporary replacement.