The New Hanover School Board faced outside pressure when appointing the CFCC School Board

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The New Hanover County School Board appoints four of the thirteen CFCC trustees to four-year terms (the other seats are named by the County Commissioners of New Hanover and Pender Counties and the Governor). The school board makes its appointments by majority vote after hearing the candidates.

The most recent nomination process took place in early June. Following the school board interviews for the appointment of the CFCC Trustee – seeking to decide between incumbent Trustee Robby Collins and Ray Funderburk III – the NHCS Board unanimously named Funderburk 5-0member Nelson Beaulieu recused himself as an employee of the college and member Stefanie Adams being absent from the vote.

In May, County Commissioner Bill Rivenbark reached out to school board chair Stephanie Kraybill and members Stephanie Walker and Hugh McManus to encourage them to stay with Collins, a friend of Rivenbark who was first named a CFCC trustee by the school board in 2018.

The timing might have given Rivenbark’s request additional leverage since he was asking to appoint Collins as he and his fellow county commissioners decided how much to give the school district for their final budget.

Board member Judy Justice Justice alluded to Rivenbark’s efforts during the June interview process in her conversation with Kraybill, saying, “I’m talking about the transactional process that seems to happen way too often in this genre. situations.” At the time, Justice told WHQR that she believed Collins was communicating with the board outside of the normal application process.

Rivenbark told WHQR the reason for his calls was because he had known Collins for a long time – and his experience on the finance committee led him to seek reinstatement on the CFCC board.

According to Walker, Rivenbark called her to tell her that “he really needed him. [Collins] back on the board and that he was a solid guy, that he was like a right arm.

Kraybill confirmed that Rivenbark called her and asked her to reinstate Collins. She told WHQR that she informed Rivenbark that she couldn’t just rename Collins, according to Policy 2660which sets out the school board’s formal process for interviewing and appointing trustees with a majority vote — and simply rules out reinstating a departing or former member.

It is likely that Rivenbark was aware of this policy as he too was a member of the school board from 2018 to 2020 and was in office when there was controversy over the school board’s appointment of CFCC administrator Jason McLeod in July 2020.

Changes to ‘confusing’ appointments process

During McLeod nomination processformer members of Rivenbark School Board and Lisa Estep, now a member of the North Carolina Community College Board, wanted to proceed to an immediate vote without discussion, but members like Judy Justice and Stefanie Adams said they wanted to discuss the candidates before the vote. They also said the process favored McLeod and sidelined other candidates.

According Port City Daily, The judge said of the McLeod vote: “I almost felt like it was rigged. I felt last year [2019’s trustee nomination process] was rigged. It’s like, ‘We’re going to choose whoever we want. We are the majority on the board of directors. We will decide that in advance.

Following McLeod’s nomination, Rivenbark abdicated his school board to run for the board of commissioners – but he was part of the board’s decision to update the nominating policy in October 2020.

Editor’s note: WHQR contacted the school district to ask if the nominating policy change was a direct result of the controversial July 2020 CFCC special meeting, and has yet to receive confirmation.

Interest from Jim Morton’s office

Along with Rivenbark’s calls to reinstate Collins, Kraybill also confirmed that Michelle Lee, the executive director of CFCC President Jim Morton’s office, called Crystal Buie, school board administrative assistant, to ask if Collins could be reinstated. Kraybill said, as they did with Rivenbark, they informed Lee of Policy 2260, governing the director nomination process.

Editor’s note: WHQR has also contacted the college to confirm that Lee called the school district..

Kraybill added that she approached Speaker Jim Morton at a recent political event and said, “I know you’re disappointed with our pick, but you’re going to love our nomination. [Funderburk]he will be an asset to the college and there is no reason to be sad.

Monitoring at CFCC

The CFCC Board of Directors is responsible for hiring and evaluating the College President. They have historically backed President Jim Morton, and their enthusiasm for his administration has apparently been undimmed by a host of allegations about toxic working conditions.

During the interview process, school board members asked Funderburk and Collins on how they would approach their oversight role as a fiduciary.

Funderburk that oversight is the primary position of trustees and that the board would be “the court of last resort for many employees or students who are unhappy with what is happening.” But he said he doesn’t believe in micromanaging, “You delegate authority and retain responsibility.”

Collins also responded to a school board oversight question: “As a board, we are not part of the day-to-day administration of the college, but we have a responsibility to advise and oversee the president of the college.”

Collins also said during his interview with the school board that a recent staff survey came back with “very positive feedback from faculty,” although, according to According to WHQR’s analysis of the survey, the results are more or less mixed, and comments left by faculty and staff do not reflect this type of feedback..

Ethical concerns?

WHQR wrote to the UNC School of Government about potential ethical issues with this issue, but did not hear back. The state ethics commission said in an email that it does not publicly comment on potential complaints.

According to the Commission, it is up to the “people covered” (legislators, judges, district attorneys and/or officials) or legislative employees who have been affected by the alleged breach of ethics to file one with them. And if a complaint is filed, it is then reviewed by Commission staff and then reviewed by Commission members.

“This process is strictly confidential. The facts underlying a complaint are carefully reviewed and all parties are given the opportunity to respond to any allegations,” said Kathleen Edwards, Executive Director of the Commission.

Edwards also stated that state status which governs gift prohibitions and conflict of interest provisions are filed under the state government ethics law. The law mainly covers “reasonably foreseeable financial benefits” to the politician or if he has a family, personal or financial relationship with a participant in a particular proceeding.

So the question remains, is this ‘banal’ arguing for who the administrator or president’s office wants to be on its oversight board, or is it an attempt to exert political influence undue?

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