Bay College president uses false ID to promote millage

ESCANABA — With just days left before the November election, Bay College is working hard to get the message out about a millage proposal the college has put forth that will appear on the ballot. However, the way the message has been presented online and in mailings has some of the proposal’s detractors up in arms.

Much of the buzz revolves around a series of posts made by Bay College President Laura Coleman on a Facebook page called “Vote NO for Bay College’s Millage Proposal on Nov 5th,” in which Coleman used a Facebook profile with a fake name. The posts, which appeared tied to the name “Lee Knapp” and later “Laura Knapp,” drew attention due to their pro-millage content and the poster’s obvious familiarity with Bay College’s inner workings.

Multiple members of the page speculated the account — which had no profile picture — was a fake, with one member going so far as to claim the mystery account must be owned by either Coleman or Bay College Board of Trustees member Tom Butch. On Oct. 21, a few days after the postings from Lee Knapp began and two days after the post speculating the account was run by Coleman, a post from the page appeared confirming the suspicions. The post included a screenshot of the personalized url for Lee Knapp’s profile page, which included the phrase “laura.coleman.”

Coleman confirmed she owned the account in posts made later that day.

“It was a rookie, stupid mistake, but had I not done it the way I did, it wouldn’t have gotten done at all and no one would have that — a lot of those people would not have any access to that information,” Coleman told the Daily Press. “It doesn’t make it right, but I wasn’t going to build a page with my name on it for something that was going to last for just a few weeks — and I don’t know how to build a dang page, I’m sure I could figure it out — but … it was a Friday night and I was pretty tired and I just wanted to get some information out there.”

Following the admission that she was Lee Knapp, Coleman made multiple posts apologizing for using the false name and explaining the Lee Knapp page was a private Facebook account for communicating with her grandchildren. She also stated the page was set up by her grandson years prior to the recent postings.

“My responses on this page were all factual pieces of information. I should have started a brand new Facebook page with my name. I apologize for not identifying myself,” she wrote in one post.

According to Coleman, the board has been notified of her actions. She also noted that if she were a more novice community college president without a solid rapport, her actions on Facebook may have cost her her position.

“They (the Bay College board) know me, they know that I’m an honest person, they know that I don’t do (any)thing frivolously, and they know that I communicate with my grandkids on Facebook because I show them all the time,” she said.

Nearly all of the posts made by Coleman as Lee Knapp have been removed from the page. Coleman is unsure whether the posts were removed by the page moderators or if they were removed while she was adjusting her privacy settings, but she said she did not remove the the posts intentionally. She also noted the posts may have appeared to some users as “Laura Knapp” as she made adjustments to her privacy settings.

The posts themselves covered a wide range of issues raised by those in opposition to the millage proposal. One series of posts revolved around an event held for Bay College students, which featured free pizza and information about the proposal. Some members of the page raised concerns over the pizza, which they viewed as a bribe, while others took aim at the fact most Bay College students are not property owners and therefore would not directly fund the millage if passed.

In one lengthy reply, Coleman, as Lee Knapp, argued politicians did not buy votes by providing food at events, that students who rent subsidize taxes through their rent payments, and that 18 year olds were adults who could make decisions and be involved in the political process.