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School Board votes 4-3 to stick with Murfree

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY -- About 125 people crowded into the Dougherty County School System's Administration Building's first floor board room Wednesday to discuss a controversial process to find a new school superintendent.

The concerned citizens attended the called meeting to provide input about the Jan. 27 appointment of Albany State University executive Joshua Murfree as the only finalist for the superintendent position.

Board members Anita Williams-Brown, Milton "Junebug" Griffin, the Rev. James Bush, Velvet Riggins and Michael Windom supported Williams-Brown's appointment. Board Chairman David Maschke and Emily Jean McAfee voted against the appointment.

The Herald learned on Jan. 27 that Williams-Brown was a business associate with Murfree for her Hawkinsville church's community outreach program Blessed Community Development Corporation.

Murfree, 54, is the chief financial officer of the nonprofit that was created Sept. 3, 2003.

Nineteen citizens filled out a form and listed their address to speak to the board about their concerns regarding the search, with 13 of the 19 voicing their concerns about the search. Members of the audience cheered, clapped, jeered and even "amen"ed some of the comments made by the speakers. Griffin clapped at some of the comments as well.

But after hearing Dougherty County residents comments for 52 minutes, many of them passionately pleading with the board to change its actions, the board decided to stand pat.

"Frankly, we're at a point ... and from all sides they're not happy," Maschke said late in the meeting. "I'm going to take this opportunity to urge the board to finish the process so we can name three finalists and let the public weigh in on the three finalists. I would like to recommend to the board that we finish the process and that we back up on the decision."

Windom seconded the motion. Bush offered a substitute motion.

"That we move forward on the 14 days (schedule in which the school

system can name a finalist)," Bush said.

Williams-Brown seconded the motion. The board then voted on the motion and it passed 4-3 with Bush, Williams-Brown, Riggins and Griffin voting in the majority.

Griffin then suggested that the board scrap the community forum to meet Murfree, but that motion died without a lack of a second. Bush suggested having the forum at Dougherty County High School.

"I've sent out potential dates, but I'd appreciate some response to those e-mails," Maschke said."

Immediately following the meeting, Riggins said, "There's no need to stop the process. We need to name the best person to replace Dr. Whatley."

Riggins said she was unavailable for further questions because she had to run, although she was seen later in the lobby. Griffin, Bush and Williams-Brown declined to comment.

McAfee said she was disappointed in the vote.

"I'm very disappointed," she said. "It lacks integrity. I think it's

demoralizing to the staff and faculty to know that the professionals in their field have been ignored. I think it's a sad day for us all, black and white, because we clearly didn't follow the process and had a lack of integrity."

Windom said: "This may be one of the biggest decisions we ever made. It may be the worst decision we ever made. Time may heal a broken heart. I tend to forgive people for whatever the do. I'm a forgiving person. It may take longer, but ultimately, I'm going to forgive you and I hope the people do. The voters may have something to say about that and if they are (angry), then they may demonstrate it with their votes. I think you can expect that to happen, and if they do, that means they didn't forgive."

Maschke predicted that the decision may cause a rift in the community that could last for some time.

"I think it's going to remain a rift for quite a while, which is very unfortunate," he said. "It's going to take time and the board working together and the new superintendent to overcome this."

Earlier in the meeting, Griffin challenged Maschke as to where the

figure came from that Murfree was ranked 34th out of 37 applicants by the Georgia School Boards Association.

"Where did the rankings come from because I had never heard that?" Griffin asked. "Where did that come from, 33?"

Audience members shouted "34" to correct Griffin on his mistake.

"That was disclosed in a closed session," Maschke said.

"I don't remember that," Griffin said. "I must've been sleeping."

Griffin then started motioning to The Herald reporter.

"Did David mention that?" Griffin said. "I noticed you report everything David reports, but you never actually report what really happens. And did you report that David was the first person to nominate anybody?

We choose not to go with that candidate."

After seeing McAfee's head recoil in disbelief, Maschke had heard enough.

"OK, stop right there because first of all, I never nominated anybody," he said. "That's not even true because we never got to the nominations. Stop right here and stay with the agenda."

Griffin then said he "was really upset" and asked for Georgia School Boards Association consultant Bill Sampson, who conducted the national search for the board for $8,000.

"Sampson said to write down three candidates and to tally them up," Griffin said. "One candidate had seven nominations and that we should vote right now. Am I right? I mean, why didn't he report all that?"

"Mr. Griffin, I'm going to ask you to stop," Maschke interrupted.

"I'm not gonna stop, I'm not gonna stop," Griffin insisted.

"Mr. Griffin I'm going to ask you to stop because you are out of order. First off, because what you're saying is not accurate. Let's move on to the agenda and you can discuss what you want."

"No, no, they need to hear," Griffin pleaded.

Maschke finally told Griffin that we need to move on and Griffin quieted down. After the meeting Maschke told The Herald that an applicant had received seven votes for a second interview.

"But, Junebug said he had already made up his mind up before the applications were received and that was to support Murfree," he said. "But, Murfree didn't receive unanimous support for a second interview. So my point to the board was, why would you stop the process and support a candidate that had less votes for a second interview than a candidate that had seven votes and was more highly rated. But, I didn't nominate the guy. It just didn't make sense."

Then, Bush stepped in.

"Let me say this, I just want the public to know that no one was ranked No. l, 10, 15, 34, that's not true. That's not accurate," Bush said. "What Mr. Griffin said is true."

After the meeting, Maschke challenged Bush's assessment on Murfree's ranking.

"The GSBA had three people evaluate each application and gave points to how well they matched what was advertised," he said as far as board agreed upon qualifications. "(It was) top tier, middle tier and bottom tier. ... Applicants were listed alphabetically. I went through all the applications and scoring and did the rankings and that information was shared in the executive session. So when the board members say where did this information come from it's really disingenuous because they know where it came from. I didn't pass out information,

but told them in executive session and they know it."

The board then moved on to the agenda item that brought the board together in the first place, Windom's e-mail from Saturday asking board members to "reconsider our options" and to "reconsider our selection process of the next superintendent."

"Why can't we come back and have the three finalists and continue the process," Windom asked board members. "I don't want it lost that I voted for Mr. Murfree, it's that the process didn't go on as it was before, and, let's make it clear because certain people want to call me names. I want us to look as a board again and we might pick Dr. Murfree again.

"I just want to make sure we have the right person," he said as some audience members clapped. "I'm not looking for applause or the boos. Just to follow the process."

Riggins then asked, "What process did we not follow?"

Maschke answered Riggins question by handing out copies of steps the board agreed upon titled "Superintendent Search Board of Education" and "Events Remaining in the Dougherty County Superintendent Search as of Dec. 30, 2009."

The Superintendent Search Board of Education had 17 steps. They were:

1. Establishing a criteria (BOE working with GSBA)

2. Establish time line (BOE working with GSBA)

3. Develop and mail announcements (GSBA)

4. Respond to requests for information and applications (GSBA)

5. Receive applications (GSBA)

6. Screen applications (GSBA)

7. Conduct reference checks on top candidates (GSBA)

8. Meet with BOE to review applications (GSBA)

9. Prepare BOE for interviews

10. Board selects candidates for interviews (BOE)

11. Schedule interviews with the BOE (GSBA)

12. Interviews with (BOE with GSBA assistance)

13. BOE selects the candidate(s) for second interview (BOE)

14. Georgia law requires that at least 14 days prior to appointing a

superintendent the Board of Education must release to the media the

information they have about "as many as three" candidates who are being considered (OCGA 50-18-72).

15. (Optional) BOE committee visits school district of candidate(s) (BOE)

16. Selection of the Superintendent (BOE)

17. Letters sent to those applicants that were not chosen for the

position (GSBA). This is done only after the authorization is given by

the board.

The first bulleted item in the "Events Remaining in the Dougherty County Superintendent Search" was "Determine dates, time and location for second interviews."

Bush then said, "Did not Sampson say during the process we could have 1, 2 or 3 (candidates)?"

Maschke said, "I called the board in January because it became clear the process was falling apart and that they (the majority of the board) had made up their mind."

Bush asked Maschke, "Had you made up your mind?"

"No I had not," Maschke answered. "...I never nominated a candidate."

"Did you stop the process," Bush asked.

"I never attempted to stop the process," Maschke said.

"Sampson said to list three candidates," Griffin interrupted.

"That's not true," Maschke said.

Williams-Brown then stepped into the conversation.

"Can I mention the other two candidates and you come to the table, but

can we mention the other two finalists?" she said.

Dougherty County School System Attorney Tommy Coleman then stepped up to the podium, "No. You can't mention their names."

McAfee then read from a prepared speech.

"I would like to state to you all that my vote not to name Dr. Murfree, a single finalist, was not against him individually. My vote no was because of the flawed process. We started our search to fill the position of superintendent of the Dougherty County Schools in a professional manner. We hired GSBA as you all know because of their expertise and experience in working with the selection process alongside local school boards.

"We even boldly stated that it would be a nationwide search and spent the money to advertise accordingly," she continued. "We had sessions which familiarized us with the proper and legal way to conduct our search. Qualifications were determined, a schedule developed, deadline set, etc. Following the closure of the application acceptance the 30 plus applications were sent to three separate retired educators for evaluation based on the criteria we advertised. The applicants were ranked accordingly.

"After being presented the applications for review and following confidential discussion, we were allowed to indicate the candidate whom we would like to interview on the first round," she said. "To my dismay, two individuals from the third tier ranking had enough votes to be invited.

"I certainly expected and believed that there would be two rounds of interviews," she continued. "No corporation, institution of higher learning, branch of the military or business with a multi-million dollar budget appoints an administrative head who is without appropriate credentials merely based on a one-hour general interview. The plea to continue the interview process fell on closed minds and deaf ears. The process became a train wreck and farce at that moment.

"The ironic thing is that this board and the personnel committee chairman (Williams-Brown) specifically has regularly challenged the administration's recommendations for leadership appointments asking for detail data about the DCSS policy and process even indicating that there existed a favoritism and buddy system which influences appointments," she added. "Wow, what a double standard. We expect the administration to follow policy and yet we do not follow protocol in our actions."

McAfee concluded her statement by asking to terminate the current

superintendent process.

"Due to the legal implications now before us, as well as each of us knowing we have not followed protocol on this matter, I suggest that we take corrective action and terminate this search process," she concluded. "I also suggest that we reopen the search and follow a defined legal process which has been agreed upon by this board."

Riggins followed McAfee's statement by telling the board and community that the board did follow the qualifications it set for itself. She then listed off the qualifications.

"These are the qualifications all of us agreed upon and recommended," Riggins said. "...We need change in Albany. The gentleman (a speaker) said we've had 66 years of experience (with the last two superintendents) and we need to step out of the box. I have three children, one in elementary, middle school and high school and I am a Dougherty County graduate. We need discipline."

Riggins then read off names of out-of-the-box successful superintendent candidates from across the country. She noted New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein was a chairman and chief executive officer of Bertelsmann, Inc., one of the world's largest media companies. She referenced Alphonse Davis, the New Orleans school system superintendent, who had served 27 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

She then challenged the appearance of wrongdoing because of her connection to Murfree. The two share fraternity and sorority ties.

"Most of you that came before (us), I know most of you," Riggins said. "Deidra Langstaff, I know you from Girl Scouts."

After Riggins spoke, McAfee took the opportunity to question Murfree's Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Accreditation Committee ties. Williams-Brown told The Herald on Jan. 27, "If I'm not mistaken, he's on the national SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) Accreditation Committee. SAC evaluates schools across the country."

SACS is a regional 11-state body with headquarters in Decatur.

McAfee read from information that noted that, "Mr. Murfree welcomed the SACS team to ASU and discuss what he would do with the committee. There's no indication he was an evaluator. ... He did not serve on a SACS committee."

Based his 37-page application he submitted to the school system, Murfree served on the "SACS Committee for Dougherty County Public Schools during the 2003-04 academic year. Murfree serves as the internal co-liaison for the ASU SACS Team."

Murfee didn't return a call seeking comment.