Interim college president draws six-figure salary while his own search firm looks for successor

Updated: Feb. 4, 2019 at 2:45 PM EST
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DUPLIN COUNTY, NC (WECT) - WECT has learned the interim president of James Sprunt Community College also works for the firm hired to conduct the college’s presidential search. Dr. Kenneth Boham, who’s being paid $159,339 a year by the college in Duplin County, is also an executive with the search firm Executive Leadership Associates (ELA).

The college’s Board of Trustees signed a contract with Boham in August 2018, hiring him to serve as interim president.

Three months later, the Board of Trustees hired Executive Leadership Associates to help find a permanent college president. ELA’s website lists Boham as a principal partner for the firm.

The board agreed to pay ELA $20,500 plus expenses for services advertising the president’s position, recruiting potential candidates, and narrowing that list of candidates for James Sprunt Community College (JSCC) down to six by Jan. 31, 2019.

When asked about the potential conflict of interest with this arrangement, the Chairman of the Board for James Sprunt Community College (JSCC), Anita Powers, said there was nothing improper about it.

“In our search for a new president, we elected to hire a search firm to assist us," Powers wrote in an email response. "We sought (requests for proposals) for the search firm…ELA submitted the lowest bid. Dr. Boham fully disclosed his position with the firm and advised that if we were to choose ELA, he would not receive any remuneration from any contract between ELA and JSCC.

"With that assurance, we, thereafter awarded the contract to ELA as our search firm. Dr. Boham did not participate in the solicitation, negotiation, award, or settlement of the contract with ELA and will not benefit financially therefrom. He has remained neutral in the entire process.”

Powers said the board did not feel it had violated the school’s conflict of interest policy in hiring Boham’s firm, and that ELA was significantly less expensive than any of the competing firms, saving JSCC almost $10,000. The school’s administrative policy manual advises college employees against “engaging in employment or activities that may constitute a conflict of interest” and says “there can be no conflict of interest between one’s job responsibilities and…an outside for-profit business."

North Carolina General Statute 14-234 addresses employees benefiting from public contracts. We reached out to the NC Community College’s System (NCCCS) office to see if it had any legal concerns about Boham’s connection to the search firm that was hired by JSCC.

“Whether there is a violation of that statute depends upon whether the public employee is ‘involved in making or administering a contract on behalf of (the college)," NCCCS Public Affairs Director Brian Long wrote WECT, quoting the general statute. "’A public . . . employee is involved in administering a contract if he or she oversees the performance of the contract or has authority to make decisions regarding the contract or to interpret the contract.’”

Long added that legal problems could also arise if the employee in question is “making a contract if he or she participates in the development of specifications or terms or in the preparation or award of the contract.” He said when it comes to presidential searches, that is the duty of the college’s board of trustees, and “it would be up to that board and the employees to take precautions to ensure that no conflict of interest was occurring.”

According to the company’s website, ELA is a partnership of six former North Carolina community college presidents working to help community colleges make hiring decisions. According to the secretary of state’s website, the company was formed in March 2018.

Since it is a private company, it is not clear how the board would know whether or not Boham received any benefit financially or otherwise if his firm won the contract with JSCC. WECT put that question to Boham directly, and he said he would hope his honest reputation would be enough to verify his lack of financial interest in the contract.

"I’ve been in this business for more than 40 years. My reputation is more important to me than anything that would bring dishonor to myself or this institution,” Boham said. “If I indicate that I’m not to get compensation, they take that on face value.”

Boham added that whichever partner in his firm takes on a particular executive search gets paid for that contract. He said he was not involved in the James Sprunt search so he did not get paid for it.

Boham said he fully disclosed his connection to the company and was careful to recuse himself in all matters surrounding the presidential search. He expressed surprise that anyone would take issue with the arrangement.

“I’m not aware of anybody indicating to me that it was a conflict of interest," Boham said. "From that standpoint, I’m pretty much at a loss as to why anyone would think it was a conflict of interest.”

Boham took the job with James Sprunt Community College after retiring from Caldwell Community College, where he had served as president since 1995. According to his biography on the Executive Leadership Associates website, he also recently served as interim president of Martin Community College.

Boham lives in Holly Springs, NC, but commutes to Duplin County most weeks and stays in a hotel while working as interim president at James Sprunt CC.

The four finalists named by JSCC to take over as the college’s next president are: Dr. Shannon Kennedy, executive vice president at Cleveland Community College; Dr. Bob Lowdermilk, vice president for student Development at Rockingham Community College; Dr. Deborah Grimes, senior vice president of instruction and student services at Lenoir Community College, and Dr. Jay Carraway, vice president of continuing education at Lenoir Community College.

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