A lot of questions remain about Heath Morrison’s departure as Superintendent of CMS, but it’s becoming clearer how that process went down. For one, CMS school board member Rhonda Lennon says he gave his resignation before the board could even discuss firing him. She says Morrison did that after he was given an outline of allegations against him.
About one month ago, school board member Lennon says the board began hearing complaints about Morrison.
“We were presented by several sources that were very believable and these people were all willing to be public and come in front of the board and talk to us.”
So Lennon says that board members asked to see those complaints in writing. The plan was to go over a report by board attorney George Battle on Friday, October 31st. She says board Chairwoman Mary McCray and Vice Chairman Tim Morgan sat down with Morrison a couple days before to deliver a synopsis of the accusations and tell him the board would review them on Friday.
“Before we even had that meeting, Friday, October 31st. Dr. Morrison had an attorney contact us to initiate the resignation negotiations,” Lennon says.
That was about an hour before the meeting was supposed to begin.
“I can say prior to that point, everybody wanted to stick to the letter of the contract,” Lennon says, “which was review and if we feel there’s enough information in there to proceed with termination for cause we’ll vote on it and then move forward with termination for cause.”
She says it never reached that point because Morrison’s attorney informed the board of his intention to resign.
But Lennon says some board members thought maybe they shouldn’t accept his resignation. Instead, maybe they should just go ahead and fire him with cause. That means he wouldn’t be entitled to severance.
“But then we all thought that would be distractive to the school system because then there would be the hearing and he’s on suspension with pay and we wouldn’t be moving forward. And since the resignation was offered with no compensation, I was OK accepting that.”
Lennon says she wanted to make sure the news of Morrison’s resignation went public on Monday, Nov. 3, before the vote on the sales tax that would go toward raises for CMS employee.
“He (Morrison) was going to send out an announcement saying ‘I’m resigning, here’s my announcement.’ And we were going to send out that we were going to accept his resignation. And then obviously around noon that day someone leaked it to a TV station that he was going to resign.”
That was the first of a few leaks. A formal investigation into Morrison was leaked to the Charlotte Observer. It said Morrison belittled staff members and misled the board about the cost to build a magnet school at UNC Charlotte. But before portions of that report became public, Lennon says it had already found its way to Morrison.
“His attorney over the course of those negotiations made it very clear that she was basically almost quoting from the report in some instances. So clearly that report was not just leaked to the media, but apparently a leak to Dr. Morrison or his attorney as well,” Lennon says.
The board approved Morrison’s separation agreement 6-3 on Thursday. It included a confidentiality clause for both parties and a promise not to disparage one another. The Charlotte Observer has published portions of the report. Executive Editor Rick Thames says the newspaper doesn’t plan to publish the whole report.
“We’ve published everything from the report that is of public significance,” Thames says. “There are some matters in the report that involve the privacy of non-managerial employees. These are employees who had the courage to be candid about some very difficult situations in their workplace and we’re respecting their privacy.”
Board Chairwoman Mary McCray told a couple news outlets she wants the district attorney to investigate who leaked the report. Board member Eric Davis says a better way to handle it would be to hire outside counsel to investigate the whole situation that led to Morrison’s resignation. Davis voted against the separation agreement because he said disagreed with how the board handled Morrison’s departure.
“One of the first steps the board could take for helping the constituents we serve to understand how we got to where we are and restore trust would be to hire an independent body to do an investigation of not only how confidential information known by the board and three attorneys leaked to the press, but also what got us to this point we're at today,” Davis says.
As for Lennon, she says it’s most important to move on.
"He resigned with zero compensation, and I think that should tell the public a lot," Lennon says.
And she points out the investigation of Morrison wasn’t complete when he resigned. She says that investigation should continue to make sure no stone is left unturned.