The divided vote taken behind closed doors to select James Morton as Cape Fear Community College’s next president was legal under the state’s open meetings law, according to a UNC School of Government professor.
CFCC Trustee Jonathan Barfield, also a New Hanover County commissioner, questioned the board’s decision last week to vote on Morton, the only candidate considered, privately. Barfield was one of three trustees who voted against appointing Morton, who previously served as interim president following the departure of Dr. Amanda Lee in January.
“I know you can have any conversation you want to have in closed session, but when you are making a decision like this, it is something that is done in open session, at least that is what we do from a county commission standpoint," Barfield previously said.
The State Board of Community Colleges will now consider the selection before CFCC’s board takes a final vote.
The state’s open meetings law allows public bodies to meet out of the view of the public for nearly a dozen reasons, like consideration of personal decisions or discussions with an attorney. But typically, any formal action must be taken in an open session.
However, a provision in the statute notes that a vote has to be made in open session only when it is the “final action.”
“Since the state board has to approve the appointment, the trustees’ vote was not the final action and was not required to be made in open session,” Frayda S. Bluestein, School of Government Professor of Public Law and Government, wrote in an email on Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the State Board of Community Colleges said it is unclear if the board will consider the Morton selection at its next monthly meeting scheduled for April 19-20.
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