Three trustees voted against Morton nomination for CFCC president

Three trustees voted against Morton nomination for CFCC president
CFCC Board of Trustees member Jimmy Hopkins voted for Morton to be the school's next president. (Source: WECT)
CFCC Board of Trustees member Jimmy Hopkins voted for Morton to be the school's next president. (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Cape Fear Community College Trustee Jonathan Barfield, also a member of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, said Friday he was one of three members to oppose the selection of Jim Morton as the next president of CFCC.

The Board of Trustees voted behind closed doors Thursday night to drop the interim label on Morton's title and name him the next president of the community college. He has served in that capacity since January after Dr. Amanda Lee left the position.

Board Chair Mat White said state law does not require this vote to take place in an open session. The college provided two statutes that it claims spells out those rights, including one covering closed sessions to discuss the merits of hiring someone, but didn't clarify the part of the language that would allow the closed session vote.

"I don't know whether they didn't know the right procedures, or what, but 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," Barfield said. "At least that is what we do from a county commission standpoint. Maybe there is some new rule that the community colleges have that I am not aware of but again, I am not aware of it."

According to Barfield, trustees William Turner and John Melia also voted against Morton. Neither Turner nor Melia were immediately available for comment on the vote.

Jimmy Hopkins, one of the trustees who voted for Morton, said the main reason he supports the move is Morton's financial and business acumen.

"I think at this point Jim is the absolute best candidate," Hopkins said Friday. "I think he brings a vast amount of financial background, business background and Cape Fear is such a large institution, it's almost a corporation, more than $100 million budget. ... Him, combined with his vice presidents in the academic department, I think will be a perfect team."

An ad hoc committee of trustees was created earlier this year to consider the next steps in filling the role of president. The group, including trustees Ann David, Louis Burney, Mary Lyons Rouse, Dr. Chuck Kays and Zander Guy, met one time on March 14th. Barfield says the closed session meeting last night centered around Morton as the only potential candidate.

"Basically, the conversation was, we don't want to do a search. We think we have the right person in place now to appoint as president and my concern, with the county expending in excess of $10 million a year to CFCC between paying for the bonds for the buildings as well as operational costs," Barfield said. "Every day I wear a county commissioner's hat, I want to make sure I'm representing the taxpayers' resources properly. In my opinion, you look at what UNCW did in the full search for their chancellor to make sure they got the best and brightest person that can attract the right talent to UNCW. That's my concern as well at Cape Fear. I'm not saying Jim Morton is not the right person, but I need to compare him to others across our country to make sure that we get the best and the brightest that can make CFCC the best that it can possibly be."

The selection of the next president for CFCC comes amid what Barfield described as "turmoil" over the last several years.

Lee's tenure at CFCC lasted less than three years. She resigned around the same time as the college settled a lawsuit with former president Dr. Ted Spring over the way his departure was managed.

\Morton came to CFCC after working with Wilmington International Airport. He is the only college president in North Carolina to serve in that role with only a bachelor's degree. The overwhelming majority of presidents — 55 of 58 — have doctorates.

To me, it is important that we do our job, that we do our due diligence, that we not just let this go 'cause we don't want to go through the process, but do our job and make sure we are putting the right person in place. And again that person may be the person that was chosen last night. As I tell my kids when they got their Christmas money when they were younger and they go to the mall and the first store they walk in to they want to spend their money, I would say 'Hold on wait a minute, you may see something else you may want to get, as opposed to this, so why don't you shop around a little bit and then decide what you want to spend your resources on.' And so I think that's important we do the same thing as well. -- Jonathan Barfield

Hopkins said he doesn't think Morton's lack of a doctorate is a problem.

"I don't have any concerns about the educational question and I knew it would come up," Hopkins said. "I think when you look at smart businesspeople, smart CEOs, smart presidents, they can surround themselves with people who step up with any shortcomings they have. The academic side, I think we have a great vice president of instruction of academics. I think that partnership will lead the college to an incredible future. I have absolutely no reservations about that question that keeps coming up."

The vote Thursday night is the first of a three-part process to install Morton in the position. The state Board of Community Colleges will have to approve the recommendation before the CFCC Board of Trustees takes a final vote. A representative for the state board said Friday it is unclear if the Morton nomination will be taken up in the monthly meeting scheduled for April 19.

According to the college, Morton is unavailable for comment until after the process is completed.

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