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Murfree's preference rose early

Joshua Murfree

Joshua Murfree

ALBANY -- Dougherty County School Board at-large member Anita Williams-Brown indicated early on in the superintendent search process her partiality toward Joshua Murfree.

Williams-Brown appointed Albany State University Executive to the President Murfree as the superintendent finalist during Wednesday's school board meeting.

Williams-Brown told The Albany Herald Wednesday night that she and another board member gave their "blessing" on Murfree in a non-meeting setting when they found out he had applied for the superintendent position.

"I gave him my blessing when I found out he applied," she said. "If I remember correctly, we were looking over about the persons I thought would make an excellent superintendent and I was told he applied and I said, 'Excellent!'"

On Friday, Dougherty County School System Attorney Tommy Coleman released a letter to the media addessed to Murpfree from Board Chairman David Maschke. In the letter dated Thursday, Maschke congratulated Murfree on being voted Wednesday as the "only finalist" for the school system's superintendent position.

"Congratulations!" Maschke wrote. "As you may be aware, state law requires a minimum of 14 days from the date the Board names a Finalist(s) to when the Board can vote to appoint the Superintendent."

After relating to Murfree about his application and other materials being released to the public, per state law and required by the Open Records Act, Maschke stated that the "Board is intent on conducting a forum(s) where the public will be able to meet you and ask questions of you.

Please consider what dates would be suitable for you to participate in the forum(s).

"I will be contacting you personally next week to discuss these and other points in anticipation of the Board appointing you Superintendent. Again, congratulations on being named the Finalist for this important position."

Georgia School Boards Association consultant Bill Sampson told The Herald Friday that although Maschke and others have indicated they plan to have a community forum -- which has yet to be announced -- it is not guaranteed. Sampson conducted the nationwide search for the board at a cost of more than $8,000.

"There is no requirement for a forum under the Open Records Act, only if the board wants one," Sampson said.

Following Wednesday's vote of the board to name Murfree as superintendent finalist, the school board verbally agreed to doing a forum.

"I will be contacting Dr. Murfree and the board members over the weekend to work on the arrangements for the forum," Maschke said Friday.

Also on Friday, Dougherty County School System Attorney Tommy Coleman answered The Herald's Open Records Act request on documents pertaining to three finalists.

"As you know, the Board members designated only one finalist," Coleman wrote. "Consequently, you have been faxed documents for that finalist only. I understand that there have been reports by individual Board members to you that there were other finalists. Further, it is clear that a dispute exists with regard to the meaning of the statute and the requirement to disclose the documents collected for 'as many as three.'

"As we have discussed, there has been no case interrupting (interpreting) the term 'as many as three,'" Coleman continued. "Consequently, the Board has elected to select only one finalist. I am not in possession nor is Superintendent (Sally) Whatley in possession of any additional documents for any other individual.

Further, the Board has not elected to designate any other individual as finalist."

The question of the number of finalists for superintendent position arose after The Herald spoke to board members Michael Windom and Anita Williams-Brown Wednesday night regarding the finalist selection of Murfree. The 54-year-old Murfree currently holds three titles Albany State University -- executive assistant to the president, administrative chief of staff and athletic director.

"There were two other finalists," Windom said. "We had narrowed it down to three individuals, so when it became apparent that Dr. Murfree was the consensus of the majority I was fine in supporting that because I do think he has the potential of being an outstanding leader.

The way I see it, now the burden is on him to do that.

"I would've preferred to take another look at the other two finalists in the pool, but the majority (felt) that they had the person they wanted," he added. "Obviously, I wasn't convincing enough to get the majority to go along with that to take a second look and be absolutely sure. ... The preferred candidate I would've (liked to have) seen was eliminated by the majority. I guess the last person standing is Dr. Murfree."

Williams-Brown -- who was discovered by The Herald to have had an

undisclosed business relationship with Murfree with her church's community outreach program Blessed Community Development Corporation -- also cited three finalists.

"Well, we had three finalists and after they did some investigation the other ones didn't meet that criteria," she said. "I'd rather not get into that and have David (Maschke) talk to you on that."

Board member Velvet Riggins, who also had an obscure connection to Murfree revealed Friday by The Herald through her sorority, questioned if Windom knew what his interpretation of a finalist was.

"I'm not sure what he means as finalist and I have not spoken to him for a clarification," Riggins said Thursday. "I don't know what his definition of what a finalist is because from what I was told, the finalists were whoever we announced for superintendent. So if we didn't announce them they weren't finalists."

Sampson, who conducted the national search for the DCSS School Board, said Thursday discussions "about other people" did take place between board members during the six executive sessions, behind closed doors during their superintendent search from Dec. 10 to Jan. 19.

"I can tell you that there was discussion about other people that could be referred to as finalists and that might be what they're referring to," Sampson said of Windom and Williams-Brown's comments about other superintendent finalists. "They had an option to invite more people in to interview over the number already interviewed or they had the option to narrow down the field of the people they had already interviewed or naming people as finalists or whatever.

"The board had a number of options, they could conduct a second-round interviews," Sampson continued. "In our (GSBA) protocol, we advise boards to name three on the advice of our attorneys that represent GSBA, but (school boards can) interpret the provision of the law how they want to."

Coleman also responded to The Herald's Open Records Act request on the Georgia School Boards Association's ranking of its 37 applicants. A source who would speak only on condition of anonymity told The Herald Wednesday night that the GSBA, which conducted the national search for the DCSS, ranked Murfree No. 34 out of 37 applicants. A second source confirmed the information Thursday.

"After considerable thought and examination of the relatively few cases on this issue," Coleman wrote, "we have concluded that the Board of Education is not required to disclose the assessment results or rankings of candidates for Superintendent."

The letter goes on to state, "O.C.G.A 50-18-72(a)(5) provides in part that public disclosure would not be required for records that are: 'records that consist of confidential evaluations submitted to, or examinations prepared by, a governmental agency and prepared in connection with the appointment or hiring of a public officer or employee;...'

"It would appear that this section protects the disclosure of the compilation made by members of the Board in evaluating each of the candidates for Superintendent."

The question of using only one hour-long interview as a basis to name a superintendent finalist has also come under question since Murfree was named the only superintendent finalist. The School Board had originally planned to have two rounds of interviews.

"The superintendent search was carried (out) by our board with the assistance of the Georgia School Boards Association and not by our human resources department," DCSS Public Information Director R.D. Harter said. "For system and school-level administrative positions, it is typical for candidates to attend more than one interview."

As a result of an Open Records request, The Herald looked over Murfree's personnel file at Albany State. Murfree was hired April 2, 1999, as the department chair of psychology, sociology and social work. His personnel file was 192 pages.

In the file, ASU President Everette Freeman, one of Murfree's references, gave Murfree a strong supervisory staff review in April 7, 2008.

"As a leader, Dr. Murfree has worked hard to exceed any expectations of the positions in which he now serves," Freeman wrote under an opening "Leadership" section of the first page. "In his position at the university it has been his role to lead by example and push others to go beyond what is expected of them. He maintains a cordial and professional relationship with his peers. He is a man who demonstrates patience, understanding, fairness and honesty."

In this review, Freeman encourages Murfree to seek higher leadership positions under the section heading of "Growth Potential" on Page 8.

"This is important and certainly worth noting. He is never satisfied with all of his work because he strives to do better," Freeman wrote. "Dr. Murfree would love to become a college or university President and he understands the timetable before him. We have discussed two (2) more years at Albany State University and he should aggressively begin to look for the next level. He can get their (sic) in his roles as Executive Assistant to the President, Administrative Chief of Staff and Athletics Director.

"He knows that this is a development process that will take time," he continued. "He is willing to stay on track with the process to the next level and not rush. 'A man's reach should always far exceed his grasp.'"

According to his 37-page application he submitted to the school system, Murfree has no K-12 experience. He earned his bachelor's in psychology at Fort Valley State University in 1978, master's in clinical counseling at Valdosta State in 1980 and doctorate in counseling psychology from Howard University in 1987.

Murfree earned an executive leadership training certificate in 2005 from Hampton University. He also earned a training and leadership for higher education certificate from National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education in Silver Springs, Md., in 2006.