Tuesday, January 13, 2015

CMS' George Battle: School board isn't hiding anything in Morrison affair

Two months have passed since the surprise resignation of former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison. Contrary to the old truism about time and wounds, this one seems pretty reluctant to heal.

CMS General Counsel George Battle III met with reporters and editors at the Observer Tuesday. Battle, regarded by his critics as the architect of Morrison's downfall, feels a bit wounded by how the affair has shaken out. He said he's been painted by critics as an out-of-control lawyer who did a hatchet-job investigation after the superintendent resisted his plan to reorganize the legal department.

He called the notion that he was on a vendetta to get rid of Morrison "a silly premise." He said he has had policy disagreements with other CMS leaders and still has strong relationships with them. He stood by his decision not to ask for an outside counsel to investigate allegations that Morrison bullied staff and misled the board on the cost of a school at UNC Charlotte. He said using outside counsel would have been a more adversarial approach. It could have required suspending Morrison with pay, causing disruption to schools in the midst of the investigation.

The UNC Chapel Hill graduate and former candidate for Congress said he resents that his professionalism and integrity have been questioned. He even went so far as to pass out copies of his job description, state bar rules governing the client-lawyer relationship, and copies of his last job evaluation. (He received good marks from all nine board members, including, he noted, Eric Davis, who has expressed support for Morrison and has called for an outside attorney to review the process that led to Morrison's departure).

Still, Battle said that because he is bound by confidentiality restrictions, he can't clear up many of the important questions still lingering around the affair. He said his report to the board was more like a summary of the allegations against Morrison -- a sort of "Cliff's Notes" of what he found. That only raises more questions, but he said he couldn't answer without airing information he's not allowed to share.

He understands that his report fails to connect all the dots necessary to explain exactly what triggered the investigation, his handling of it, and the board's oversight. He said he understand's the public's curiosity, and its frustration. Asked if there's any way legally for the board to share all the information it would take to clear up all the questions, he reiterated that the board must balance its desire to be transparent with its legal obligation to protect employee privacy and honor its contracts.

All he could really offer, in the end, is his word. And no matter how strong his code of personal and professional ethics might be, that's still no substitute for a full accounting of what happened.

"There is nothing being hidden by the board," he said. "If they were trying to be slick and trying to shove something under the rug, don't you think they would have anticipated all this better?"

Given the cascade of criticism the school board has taken in recent months, that might have been among his most convincing points.

Eric Frazier


Cornelia said...

All Battle can offer is his word? Not good enough for me. It will take an outside, impartial investigation by an impeccable disinterested third party to satisfy me. If Battle is being truthful, what are he and the BOE afraid of? Until such an investigation says otherwise, he is a petty, vindictive, arrogant wannabe politician in my mind.

Cornelia said...

And he has caused serious, possibly irrevocable damage to the reputation of CMS, IMO.

Wiley Coyote said...

To paraphrase a former BOE member (we all know who it is):

"The BOE couldn't have been involved in this....they're not smart enough"...

Cornelia said...

And if the board fired the 2012 National Suoerintendent of the year, on the basis of Cliff's Notes, then they are even dumber than i thought. Maybe Mary's masters thesis was in the firm of Cliff's Notes ( if her kind of masters even required thesis.

Larry said...

What a brave stance.

This is what the Charlotte Observer Editors are truly all about.

Larry said...

I want to champion my cause and present it as the voice of Charlotte

What do you say Observer let me be a non paid Editorial Writer.

I will not let you down, I will do exactly what you do with every editorial.

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