CFCC Board Chair asked to step down over son's employment with college

CFCC Board Chair asked to step down over son's employment with college
Cape Fear Community College has announced it will offer a new series of continuing education course focused on preparing dishes from around the world. (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The Chairman of the Board for Cape Fear Community College has been asked to step down from his position because his son is a college employee.

The relationship became an issue during the college's review for re-accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Colleges are reviewed every 10 years and must keep their accreditation in order for students' credits to transfer to other schools when they leave CFCC.

William Robert Turner III was hired as a Training Director at CFCC in April of 2015. At that time, his father William Turner Jr., served on the college's Board of Trustees. In July 2015, Turner Jr. was appointed Chairman of the Board.

Turner Jr. tells WECT that before accepting the position of Chair, individuals at CFCC reached out to SACS to verify there were no issues with his taking that position since his son was employed by the college. Turner Jr. says the college was told it was not a problem.

Then in August 2015, Turner III was up for a promotion to Dean of Continuing Education. CFCC's SACS liaison at the time, Kim Gant, wrote a letter to CFCC President Amanda Lee to voice her concerns about a possible conflict of interest were Turner III to receive that promotion.

Gant specifically cited SACS requirement 2.2 which dictates, "Both the presiding officer of the board and a majority of other voting members of the board are free of any contractual, employment, personal or familial financial interest in the institution."

In the letter, Gant shared that she had received word from Dr. Mary Kirk at SACS that the appointment of Turner III to dean, while his father was serving as Chairman of the Board, would be a conflict of interest.

A short time later, Gant left her position at CFCC, so Michelle Lee, an executive assistant to the college president, followed up with Dr. Kirk at SACS for further guidance. After their conversation, Lee believed that since the position Turner III was applying for did not interface directly with the Board of Trustees, promoting him would not be in conflict with SACS standards.

Additionally, Patrick Hogan, who took over for Gant as SACS liaison at CFCC, sent an email to Dr. Cheryl Cardell, SACS Vice President assigned to CFCC, requesting further clarification on whether promoting Turner III would violate SACS rules.

Cardell responded on October 30, "It is my personal opinion that an increase in authority does not violate SACSCOC standards."

Turner III received the promotion in question on November 11, 2015.

"We had a search, just like we do for all positions, and a committee, and there were quite a few candidates. I do not know how many people they interviewed, but he rose to the top and he was one of two recommendations that came to me," President Lee said of how Turner III was selected for the position.

The following summer, CFCC was up for their routine accreditation review. SACS President Belle Wheelan informed college officials during a presentation in Wilmington that no family member of a current Chair of the Board of Trustees could be employed by the college.

In the following weeks, CFCC President Amanda Lee informed Wheelan that the Chair's son was, in fact, an employee of the college and that the college had been in contact with SACS about this prior to his recent promotion to dean.

In response, Dr. Wheelan wrote a letter to Dr. Lee which read in part, "It is my understanding that in previous conversation with SACSCOC staff, you were told that as long as the Chair recuses himself from voting on issues directly related to his son that he can remain as Chair. That is incorrect information. While legally, he might not be in a conflict of interest situation, according to our standards, he is."

Dr. Wheelan gave Turner III the option to resign from his job at CFCC or said Turner Jr. could step down from his role as Chairman of the Board. Because SACS had provided erroneous information to CFCC which contributed to this dilemma, Wheelan allowed Turner Jr. the flexibility to complete his term as Chair, which is set to expire June 30, 2017.

WECT has received multiple letters and calls from members of the community and people inside the college concerned that the appointment of Turner Jr. to Chairman, and subsequent promotion of Turner III to dean, had put the college's accreditation at risk.

"I would recuse myself from any discussion or a vote involving my son…. Somebody is on a witch hunt," Turner Jr. said to WECT when asked about the concerns. "I would have resigned immediately if I thought it would have affected our accreditation."

Turner Jr. said all of his fellow trustees were aware that his son was employed by the college and have not expressed concerns about it. He added that he will not seek to be chair again after his term expires. Serving as a general member of the board if you have a relative employed by the college is not an issue for SACS.

CFCC President Lee said she has not been contacted by any trustees with concerns about this, nor has she heard a noteworthy level of concern about the Chair's son being hired from anyone else. Dr. Lee said Turner III has 15 years of community college experience, has done a wonderful job in his new role, and she does not regret her decision to hire him.

Dr. Lee was not aware of any other CFCC board members with relatives who work for the college, although we are told that is not uncommon at other community college campuses across the state.

The SACS re-accreditation process is expected to be finalized in December 2017.

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