Rock Hill school board to discuss superintendent search

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comSeptember 5, 2013 

The Rock Hill school board has called a meeting at noon Friday for further discussion about the process for replacing outgoing Superintendent Lynn Moody, who resigned two weeks ago to move to the Rowan-Salisbury School System in North Carolina.

Like last week’s called meeting, the board will spend the majority of its time in executive session.

The agenda says Friday’s session, a closed meeting, is being held “to discuss the possible employment of a superintendent search firm and proper contractual agreements.”

If last week’s meeting is any indication, the account of what’s discussed during that executive session can vary from member to member of the school board.

In a post Tuesday on her website, board member Jane Sharp said at last Friday’s meeting, the board decided whether the search process for the new superintendent will be “open,” meaning all candidate names are released to the public, or “closed,” with only the names of finalists publicized.

“...we will be following the closed process,” Sharp wrote.

Several hours after speaking with The Herald on Thursday about the post, Sharp amended it to say that the decision to conduct an open or closed search was discussed, but not decided.

Making an official decision regarding the search process must be completed in an open session, under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act.

“We’re going to continue discussing this (today),” Sharp said on Thursday, when asked if a decision really was reached by the board. “We didn’t take a vote, but I do think we have a consensus.”

Board chairman Jim Vining and board members Walter Brown and Mildred Douglas disagreed with Sharp’s impression of meeting proceedings, as did an attorney for the district, Ken Childs.

“To my scorecard, I don’t think we even talked about consensus,” Vining said. “In fact, there was very little discussion going on at all, period.”

Both Brown and Douglas described the “limited” discussion as informative in nature, to provide board members with an explanation of what an open and closed search would look like.

“That’s semantics,” said South Carolina Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers.

When asked about the next steps in the superintendent search process, Brown said no decision has been made with how to proceed.

“I like to think that we’re in an investigative area and that we’ll be able to make a more informed decision to decide if we want to hire an outside firm, if we want to hire internally or if we want to go out on our own,” Brown said.

Board discussions involving specific contract and personnel issues are permitted to be held in executive sessions.

“These early decisions deal with classic employment issues,” Childs said. But even deciding to meet with search firms is a decision that should have been made publicly, Rogers said.

At Friday’s meeting, the board will interview two search firms to hear their proposals about procuring superintendent candidates for the board’s consideration. Childs told The Herald on Thursday that the board met with another firm during last week’s session, a detail that was previously undisclosed.

The firm was Coleman Lew and Associates, a Charlotte-based search firm that “recruits board members and senior level executives for companies worldwide,” according to its website. It is the firm Mecklenburg County is using to find its new county manager.

The details of the meetings and proposals presented to the board from these firms will not be disclosed to the public, Vining said.

This preserves the integrity of the process and prevents one firm that presents later from having an advantage over the firms that went first, Childs said.

But even after all firms have completed their presentations, Childs said the board doesn’t have to disclose the details or costs associated with each proposal.

“I think a more appropriate thing to do would say, ‘These four firms, here they are, the board has decided this is the best firm and this is how they’re doing it,’ ” he said.

Any written materials given to board members by these firms would be subject to public disclosure, he said.

Rogers questioned what the board has to gain by keeping the discussions private.

“Why shouldn’t the public be kept in the discussion about what the options for the contract are?” he said. “What’s secret about what the options are?”

Under the state’s FOIA, the only action a board is allowed to take in executive session is moving to open session. Brown said he is committed to upholding that law.

“If you ever have occasion where a motion is made in exec session concerning what we’re going to do, you would see me walk out of that room before a vote is taken, rest assured,” he said. “I think we’re a public body, and we operate in the public eye.”

At Friday’s meeting, there is an agenda item for any action that might be necessary after the executive session. At last week’s meeting, the board came out of executive session to vote on the appointment of John Taylor as interim superintendent.

Brown said any action after Friday’s meeting is unlikely. Childs agreed, but it is possible.

“What they could do, conceivably, is after the interviews ..., the board could say, ‘Well, we don’t need to hear from anybody else, let’s employ them,’” Childs said.

Vining said if a search firm or consultant is selected to carry out the hiring process, they would decide 80 percent of the search process. So deciding on one search firm at Friday’s meeting would appear to decide on the method to find candidates, a final decision that board members said will involve community input and discussion at a board meeting.

Childs said the board is taking steps to assure transparency during the process of hiring a new superintendent. He pointed to this week’s agenda as an example of increasing the amount of information available when compared to last week’s, which just said “Discussion of employment matters, contractual issues, and receipt of legal advice.”

“The reason we said ‘employment of search firms’ was to give the public more information,” Childs said.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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