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.
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.