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Murfree working on proposed contract

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Dougherty County Board of Education will eliminate one of the last major hurdles still standing in the way of named Superintendent Joshua Murfree taking over the school system's reins in the near future.

Because Murfree does not possess state K-12 teaching certification, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission requires that Murfree apply for a permit and that "the system must verify ... that the applicant for the permit is the best-qualified applicant available."

"It's a hurdle we'll have to cross because we do want to follow the law," Board Chairman David Maschke said after a Feb. 24 board meeting.

Maschke provided Board member Milton Griffin an opportunity to add the "best-qualified applicant available" language into his motion when the Board named Murfree superintendent at its March 24 meeting, but Griffin didn't change his motion. As a result, the Board will likely vote Murfree as the "best-qualified applicant available" at Monday's 7 p.m. board meeting at the downtown DCSS Administration Building.

Because four of the seven Dougherty County Board of Education members were unable to attend Wednesday's called board meeting to discuss Murfree's proposed contract and the timeline of when he may start, the meeting was postponed. It will be rescheduled for the near future.

Per e-mail discussions with Maschke, Murfree was utilizing sample contracts provided by the Georgia School Boards Association, as well as the current contract of retiring Superintendent Sally Whatley, to write up his own contract proposal. Whatley's contract draft was written and developed by attorney Tommy Coleman, and the details were negotiated between Whatley and Board Chair C.W. Grant.

Whatley earned $173,143.32 during Fiscal Year 2009.

"I told him if he wanted to prepare and submit a proposed contract he could ... or that the school board attorney would prepare a proposed contract and he would send it to him," Maschke said. "(Murfree) opted to submit a proposed contract to us, and that's where we're starting. He submitted a proposed contract, which the board is now in the process of reviewing, and we're going to have a called board meeting to discuss the contract.

"The contract has to be a document that is satisfactory to both the board and Dr. Murfree and has to be approved by the majority of the board."

Maschke said Murfree wouldn't attend the first meeting on his contract, which will be discussed in a closed-door executive session.

"But there may be a subsequent meeting where Dr. Murfree or Dr. Murfree and his attorney could come and meet with the board to work out details in a more expedited manner, face-to-face," Maschke said.

Through a Georgia Open Records request of Murfree's Albany State University e-mail account, The Herald discovered that Murfree's correspondence with some board members began well before Whatley announced her retirement last August. Murfree had e-mailed board member Anita Williams-Brown May 6, 2008, along with 36 other people he referred to as friends in a subsequent May 12 e-mail, to pledge $1 to raise funds for his participation in the Muscular Dystrophy Association's lock-up fundraiser.

Williams-Brown voted to appoint Murfree as superintendent at the Board's Jan. 27 meeting, and The Herald later uncovered that she had a business relationship with Murfree dating back to 2003 and that Murfree wrote a letter of recommendation for her in 2001 when she was applying for a principal's position with the Dougherty school system.

Murfree's May 6, 2008, e-mail reads:

"Please click on the link belwo (sic) ... This sifor (sic) a great cause. I amasking (sic) all myfriends (sic) to participate. I have tried the link several times and it works. I am asking that easch (sic) of my friend (sic) send $1.00 in my name.

SUPPORT the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign and keep me out of JAIL!

Dr. Murfree"

Murfree received an e-mail from board member Velvet Riggins May 7, 2009, in regards to a Girl Scouts Day at Albany State University. The e-mail reads:

"Dr. Murfree,

Thank you for speaking with me today. The Program Manager has settled on Oct. 24, 2009. (sic) Girl Scout Day at ASU. Girls attending will be grades 6-12th. The Campus Girl Scouts will set up a campus tour with girls. We have schedule (sic) several Campus Tours all over the (sic) Georgia to give the girls an opportunity to visit colleges and hopeful (sic) expand their career opportunity (sic).

Velvet Riggins

Membership Manager"

In a Jan. 28 interview with The Herald, Riggins said she had met Murfree before through attending Albany State sporting events and because of her job at Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia. As membership manager, she has 56 ASU campus Girls Scouts.

Riggins has been one of Murfree's strongest supporters as she provided other prominent names of successful out-of-the-box superintendents from around the country at the Feb. 3 special called Board meeting. She also provided The Herald with a December 2008 Ebony magazine that briefly included Murfree in an article. Of the four board members to vote for Murfree to be named superintendent at the March 24 Board meeting, Riggins was the only one to comment on her decision -- via an e-mail after the meeting -- while James Bush, Williams-Brown and Griffin briskly left the meeting without talking to reporters.

Riggins sent Murfree an e-mail Nov. 11, 2009, that she forwarded from her mother and Dougherty County Commissioner Muarlean Edwards regarding a meeting with Murfree. It is believed to be in reference to a pilot program called Project SHIELD for which Edwards holds the volunteer director title. The program aims to combat truancy at Turner Elementary School. It is a partnership between the Albany State University Foundation, Turner Job Corps and the Dougherty County School System.

The meeting was set for Nov. 12, which interestingly is the same day Murfree's application for the Dougherty County superintendent position is dated. For a point of reference, the deadline for superintendent applications was Nov. 24. Since the Feb. 3 school board meeting, Edwards has become a fixture at board meetings.

Calls made by The Herald for clarification about the e-mails to Riggins and Edwards were not returned.

The e-mail, which included a PDF attachment titled "policy-attendance-law," reads:

"Dr. Murfree, I am looking forward to seeing you tomorrow, November 12. (sic) 2009 at 10:00a.m. (sic)

Attendance Law:

*Consequence

*Parents/Guidance

*Control of Child

*Tardy

*Early Pickup

*Unruly

*Unexcused Absent

*Agencies/Officials

Utilities:

*A.M. School Schedule

*Staff/Students

*Food Service

Saturday School:

*Utilities

*Transportation

*Staff

*Food

Top Administration:

*Organization Structure

*Directors etc.

*Hands on

Thanks, Muarlean"

The Open Records request also revealed an e-mail exchange between Murfree and W. Frank Wilson, who writes columns for The Albany Southwest Georgian, a weekly paper circulated predominately in the African-American community. The Southwest Georgian has been the only media outlet Murfree has granted interviews with since he was appointed superintendent on Jan. 27.

Wilson is also an ASU employee and the director of the school's Center for the African-American Male (CAAM) and also is an academic adviser. Murfree previously was the CAAM director.

The Feb. 1 e-mail is in response to The Herald's coverage of board member Michael Windom asking board members to "reconsider" their choice of Murfree and requesting a special called board meeting. Wilson's e-mail reads:

"Added some stuff as a result Sunday newspaper (sic)"

Murfree responds:

"I don't read the Hell...rald [Devil's Paper]."

Wilson replies:

"Touche my brotha (sic)"

Murfree then asks:

"Explain (sic)"

Wilson writes:

"I was merely saying ok to the fact that you do not read the Herald (sic)

"I am so proud of your demeanor during this circus."

Murfree appreciated the compliment. He replies:

"Thank you. If it had not been for Martin, Malcolm, Medgar, Emmitt, Lucy Diggs-Slowe, W.E.B., Booker T., George Washington Carver, Sojourner Truth, Jesse, The Little Rock Nine, Wilson and Murfree would really be catching hell. It is our time ... If not us then the future of our children is [NOT]!!!"

Wilson ends the exchange:

"Success comes from confidence, (sic) Confidence comes from preparation (sic) we know what we know (sic) end of story (sic)"

On Feb. 2, Wilson told Murfree about recording a segment for WALB-TV. It reads:

"Just recorded Viewpoint at TV 10 (sic)

"FYI there are many( (sic) Black and White) who want you there so PLEASE don't let this deter you (sic)

"Channel 10 selected my comments from many that were submitted

(sic)"

-- Herald government reporter J.D. Sumner contributed to this story.