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2015 March 16 - 11:34 pm

Mississippi Board Continues Stalemate Over New Leader

Required Academic Credentials of Executive Director in Dispute

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The stalemate continues over who will be the new executive director of the Mississippi Community College Board.

Board Chairman Bruce Martin of Meridian says the board took no action in a recent closed meeting and will keep discussing the appointment.

Meeting minutes that in a closed session in January, the board deadlocked 5-5 in an effort to reopen the search and seek new applicants using the existing academic requirements. Opposing that motion were the five members of the 10-member board who voted in December to hire Debra West, the board’s deputy director of programs and accountability.

Martin didn’t say exactly what happened in the recent executive session, but indicated the stalemate persisted.

“We didn’t take any action and we’ll probably take it up again next month,” he said.

The board coordinates the functions of the 15 independent community colleges. Current Executive Director Eric Clark is retiring.

Gov. Phil Bryant has been accused of improperly influencing the search, writing to the board in November to urge them to drop requirements for an academic doctorate or experience in educational administration. That letter prompted a rebuke from a regional accrediting group in January, warning that Bryant’s intervention amounted to pressure to “make an appointment based on politics and not on qualifications.”

The governor denies that has done anything improper.

“I think there are lots of opportunities for the board to look at any number of individuals for that position, but that’s the board’s decision, and I have every confidence they will make a sound one,” Bryant said.

During the open meeting that followed the executive session, board member John Pigott asked if the 15 college presidents were supporting a particular candidate.

Johnny Allen, president of Northeast Mississippi Community College and chairman of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges, said they are not, although Allen and other presidents have said they believe higher education experience is needed.

“The presidents have not endorsed a certain candidate,” Allen said. “What we have done is affirm that this board has the exclusive authority to make the choice.”

Bryant and others had indicated that retiring East Mississippi Community College President Rick Young had been floated as a possible compromise candidate. But Bryant said Moore had removed himself from the running, and Martin said he was not a candidate. Young declined comment through a spokeswoman.

Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy

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