School's hiring reasons hidden

Science-math rationale secret

Staff WriterApril 18, 2010 

Three years ago, the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics in Durham needed someone to lead its fundraising efforts, a critical position at an elite public boarding school with an annual budget of about $19 million.

Perna Carter, a vice president in charge of fundraising at Voorhees College in South Carolina, was among the two finalists. She brought 13 years of experience as a higher education administrator overseeing fundraising, grant writing and student financial aid, possessed a doctorate in public policy and administration and had spent three years as a legislative financial analyst. A search committee gave her glowing reviews.

But Carter did not get the job. Chancellor Gerald Boarman selected Brock Winslow, a Democratic political insider and former chairman of the school's Board of Trustees. Eight years earlier, he had led the search that ultimately recommended Boarman to run the school for high school juniors and seniors.

Records obtained by The News & Observer show Boarman chose Winslow despite the search committee's concerns that he had little fundraising experience and lacked "specific experience to the job description."

That job description also said those with master's degrees were preferred; Winslow has a bachelor's in philosophy and speech communication from UNC-Chapel Hill.

"She should have gotten that job," state Rep. Mickey Michaux, a Durham Democrat, said of Carter after reviewing the résumés.

If the science and math school had been in Florida, Ohio or several other states, Boarman would have been required to release information that would help explain his decision. But North Carolina's personnel law allows public officials to keep nearly all hiring information secret.

'Mr. NCSSM'

A recent series in The N&O, "Keeping Secrets," found that the state's 35-year-old personnel law is one of the most restrictive in the country. It has prompted one lawmaker to pledge to draft legislation in the coming legislative session to eliminate much of the secrecy surrounding hiring, disciplinary actions and pay increases for public employees and officials. Other lawmakers say the law needs to be revisited.

The law is so secretive regarding hiring and most other personnel information that those who disclose such information can be charged with a crime. The school's spokeswoman, Lauren Everhart, made that clear when The N&O told her it had obtained copies of documents from the search committee's evaluation.

"As I'm sure you know, if the information of which The News & Observer is in possession was, in fact, part of the confidential deliberative process, it has been provided illegally to you subject to criminal penalty, and your printing of it would be an invasion of any candidate's privacy," she said by e-mail.

Initially, Everhart said school officials would not talk about the hiring. Boarman and Winslow gave interviews after UNC-system President Erskine Bowles told Boarman to be "completely candid" about Winslow's selection.

Boarman would talk only about Winslow's experience and his performance, which he said has been phenomenal. Figures released by the school indicate it has raised more money for its annual fund under Winslow than under his predecessor - from $339,000 in fiscal 2005-2006 to $445,000 in the first eight months of this fiscal year.

"He has done an outstanding job," Boarman said. "I am very grateful and thankful, as both the foundation board is and the Board of Trustees is, that we hired him."

Boarman said Winslow's connections to the school, his work as a direct-mail marketing representative, and his fundraising experience for North Carolina Democrats made him a strong candidate for the job. Winslow is a 1986 graduate of the school.

"He is Mr. NCSSM," Boarman said. "He personifies this institution."

Campaign work

Winslow began his political career as a driver for Gov. Jim Hunt during his 1992 campaign. Over an 11-month period in the mid-1990s, he served first as the N.C. Democratic Party's finance director and then executive director before returning to Hunt's 1996 re-election campaign.

Winslow also served as a "coordinated campaign director" for four congressional seats in the 1994 election, handling a $330,000 budget.

Both Boarman and Winslow say Winslow had to compete for his position - vice chancellor for development, a job that now pays $105,000 a year. Boarman made Winslow interim vice chancellor for development while the search committee sought finalists.

The personnel law gives agency heads such as Boarman and Bowles the right to release personnel information if the agency's integrity is in question. The law also gives employees, such as Winslow, the right to release their personnel information. All three have declined The N&O's requests to open the file, though Winslow provided what he said was the résumé he submitted for the job.

Search committee members reached by The N&O generally declined to comment on their deliberations, citing the personnel law. One, Rick Stone, would say only that the panel's work was not flawed.

dan.kane@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4861

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