Board draws criticism for late release of finalists

CLOVER -- In a rush to fill the district's superintendent post, the Clover school board didn't release the names of the final candidates before announcing Marc Sosne was chosen for the job.

That move didn't sit well with Bill Rogers, executive director for the South Carolina Press Association.

"That defeats the purpose of the public knowing ahead of time who they're considering," Rogers said.

Rogers said the state's Freedom of Information Act, which requires the board to release the names of no fewer than the final three candidates, was established to keep the public informed throughout the selection process.

"You shouldn't keep the public out of the loop until it's a done deal," Rogers said.

In late April, the Enquirer-Herald submitted a request for the district to release the names once finalists were chosen.

Steve Brown, school board chairman, revealed those names Wednesday -- two days after offering the position to Sosne. The other finalists were Chuck Epps, an assistant superintendent in the Fort Mill school district, and Barbara Mosseau, superintendent of Maine School District 3 in Unity, Maine.

No need for more interviews

Brown said the board didn't reveal the finalists sooner because there was never a second round of interviews.

"After our initial round of interviews, we took a good look at our candidates, and it was clear Marc was our top choice," Brown said. "We were comfortable with that decision, and we wanted to save time."

Brown said it was important to have someone in place by July 1 to avoid having to hire an interim superintendent after Vickie Phelps steps down from the post later this month.

Sosne, 56, is the superintendent-in-residence at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. His contract there ran out May 31, so it was a bonus that he was immediately available, Brown said.

By skipping the second batch of interviews, Brown said the board didn't think it needed to release the names before moving forward with Sosne.

"We weren't trying to mislead anyone," Brown said, adding the board was operating under the advice of Bill Simons, associate consultant with BWP Associates, a search firm that brought the candidates to the board.

Simons said his firm promises confidentiality to all candidates.

"Several candidates don't want their names released until they're in final consideration," Simons said. "Some of these candidates are serving very successful superintendencies. They don't want to be in a position where their community thinks they're job hunting."

Simons said he encouraged the board to come up with a list of other top candidates in case the deal with Sosne fell through. He said more than 50 candidates submitted applications for the post. The board interviewed seven candidates throughout the past month and began negotiations with Sosne last week, Simons said.

Board did not break FOI law

While skeptical of the process, Rogers said the board did not break the FOI law because it eventually released the names.

This marks the second time this week that a governing body from York County has come under fire from the press association. On Monday, the York County Council may have broken FOI laws by not publicly voting on its decision to offer the county manager job to Jim Baker of Missouri. The County Council also did not release the names of the final candidates.

Sosne was in town Thursday to meet staff and learn more about the area. He's expected to sign a contract today or by early next week, said Ken Love, chief finance officer for the school district.

Love said Sosne's base salary will be $140,000 a year, but benefits -- including a $12,000 automobile allowance, $4,800 in additional health insurance and a $1,200 cell phone allowance -- bring the total annual package to $158,000.