Education

Muscogee County School Board OKs hiring senior budget director while 2 reps object to process

The Muscogee County School Board on Tuesday night approved a new senior budget director. But as they did during last week's work session, two representatives continued to criticize the process.

After debating superintendent David Lewis' recommendation for more than 35 minutes, following last week's 25-plus-minute argument, the board voted 6-2 to hire Fulton County Board of Education budget analyst Michi Billings. John Thomas of District 2 and Frank Myers of District 8 voted no; Shannon Smallman of District 7 was out of town.

Myers and Thomas, who were elected in 2014 and joined the board in January 2015, again emphasized their opposition isn't against Billings but the way the administration selected her.

Thomas noted the job posting asks for the candidate to be a certified public accountant or have a master's degree, and Billings has neither. But MCSD chief financial officer Theresa Thornton, who was on the selection committee along with human resources chief Kathy Tessin and regional chief Ronald Wiggins, said those qualifications were preferences, not requirements, and the committee recommended Billings to Lewis because she had K-12 budget experience and the other two interviewed candidates didn't.

Lewis denied Myers' request during last week's work session to meet with Billings before Tuesday's vote. Since then, Myers and Thomas asked Lewis to allow them to read the resumes of the other candidates for the job. Board attorney Greg Ellington concluded such involvement would violate board policy.

Myers contends this is another example of the administration not being accountable or transparent enough, two buzzwords he repeated during his campaign.

"I was sent up here to do a job, and when I can't get the information to do the job, then we've got a problem," he said.

Board vice chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1 said, "The one person we can hold accountable is Dr. Lewis. That's our function. But to pick his team and hold him accountable, it does not match."

Myers threatened to go before a Superior Court judge to receive the information he requests. Meanwhile, he insisted a qualified internal candidate didn't receive an interview because "the system is rigged," referring to Thornton having worked with Billings in Fulton County.

After this story was posted on ledger-enquirer.com, MCSD communications director Valerie Fuller emailed the L-E on Wednesday evening, “In reference to the approved position, per MCSD Human Resources, there were no internal applicants for the Senior Budget Director position.”

Naomi Buckner of District 4 asked Tessin whether Thornton knowing Billings was a factor in recommending her. Tessin said no.

Mark Cantrell of District 6 suggested Thornton should have recused herself when it came to evaluating Billings' candidacy. Buckner, however, extended that thinking to MCSD and pointed to several administrators in the room who wouldn't have been hired because they already were known by those who recommended them.

"Just because you know somebody doesn't mean you are hiring them because they're a friend or an acquaintance," Buckner said.

Lewis noted that, because the senior budget director reports to the CFO, Thornton needed to be part of the selection.

"It's imperative that we trust our people and we have a fair and equitable process," Lewis said, "and I am absolutely convinced we do."

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow him on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.

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