Nielsen Ousted As Head Of College -- Edmonds Board Votes Unanimously
LYNNWOOD - Thomas Nielsen, accused of committing bribery and extortion through his position as president of Edmonds Community College, has been permanently removed from that job.
Although no charges have been filed against Nielsen, the college Board of Trustees last night voted unanimously to reassign him to a new position as "a resource on international education" until his contract expires in about 18 months.
"He is not coming back as president of this institution," board Chairwoman Karen Miller said after the meeting.
Nielsen could not be reached for comment.
The FBI and U.S. attorney's office are looking into allegations that Nielsen accepted more than $100,000 in kickbacks and bribes from business associates.
Nielsen, a Snohomish resident, developed a reputation as a state leader in education during his 16 years as president of the college.
Among his achievements are deals to build two Edmonds Community College branch campuses in Japan, the first of their kind.
Nielsen's contract protects him from firing, Miller said. His salary will remain at $99,400 a year.
"He has not been charged with any crime, so he cannot be terminated," Miller said. "But because of allegations hanging over his head, he can't be effective."
Nielsen, 53, is due back in mid-July from a 60-day paid leave. When he returns, he will report to interim President Carleton Opgaard.
Miller said Nielsen agreed Tuesday to the new job conditions.
Opgaard, named Tuesday to lead the college from June 1 through Jan. 31, will be paid at Nielsen's salary level.
Some faculty leaders who attended last night's board meeting reacted angrily to the decision to keep Nielsen on staff.
"I find it disturbing that the board continues to put its trust and faith in somebody (who apparently) has violated the public trust," said math instructor David Chalif, president of the college's teachers union, in a formal comment to the board immediately after the vote.
After the meeting, Chalif and the other instructors circled Miller in the parking lot to continue their debate in private.
Miller later said the faculty misunderstood the permanence of Nielsen's removal from the presidency and thought he might be eligible to regain his old job. She made it clear that won't happen, she said.
Federal investigators allege Nielsen:
-- Accepted $50,000 plus a Rolex watch from developers of a dormitory where foreign students live. Nielsen actively helped the developer obtain financing.
-- Accepted $50,000 in kickbacks from the president of an Everett equipment company that sold property to the city of Lynnwood for use by the college's horticulture program and the Lynnwood Municipal Golf Course.
-- Took a bribe from the head of a Japanese company conducting an English program for Japanese students at Edmonds Community College.
-- Tipped off the buyer of the Sno-King Building adjacent to the campus about the college's interest in leasing the building. Around the time of the sale, the buyer withdrew $45,000 in large bills from his own bank account. A year later, Nielsen paid the buyer $40,000.
-- Failed to report to the state Public Disclosure Commission the existence of a bank account in Japan.
Nielsen has denied any wrongdoing.
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