The HCC board of trustees had been in the final stretch of its nearly year-long search for a new president this month when the board hit an impasse, derailing the process and sending the college back to the drawing board.
That in turn has prompted the need for an interim president to bridge the gap after Johnson’s last day in October.
Johnson initially hoped to stay on until a new president was selected but has already extended her retirement date once. When Johnson announced her retirement last fall, she planned to exit the college in June, assuming that would be enough time for the trustees to pick a new president.
Johnson later agreed to stay on until October to give the board extra time.
“I loved the college so much I wanted to stay and help them through the transition process,” Johnson said.
But with the process now up in the air — and potentially dragging out for several more months if the trustees start over from scratch — Johnson said she could not stay on indefinitely. It was best for the college to find an interim president, she added.
The board of trustees now has to decide whether to start over from scratch in its presidential search or tap into the initial pool who applied for the job but just hadn’t made it to the final round.
“I hope we can move pretty quick,” said Richard Lanning, an HCC trustee and a builder. “It is important to move expeditiously.”
But, the desire to move quickly shouldn’t overshadow the bigger job at hand.
“The most important tasks we have probably as trustees is picking a presidential candidate and a good one, and we have to do our very, very best to get this right,” Lanning said. “We can’t take it lightly.”
Earlier this month, the HCC board of trustees was unable to reach a consensus over which of the five finalists they liked. Their particular views on the finalists aren’t known, as hiring discussions are confidential under personnel laws.
In general, they did not summarily dislike all the finalists but rather reached an impasse on which ones were acceptable.
Some of the trustees liked some finalists, and other trustees liked other finalists — but not enough of them all liked the same one.
“We want to pick the best person for the college because we are hoping they would be here for a long time,” echoed Charles Boyd, a trustee and owner of WNC Landscaping Service.
That is one thing at least they do agree on.
“Mr. Lanning is absolutely right. This is the most important job the board has,” Mary Ann Enloe, an HCC board member, said after the meeting. “If it takes a little longer, it takes a little longer.”
HCC hired a consultant to help with the initial search, including soliciting candidates and narrowing the field. More than 50 people applied for the position. The consultant cut the pool to 25. A search committee appointed by the trustees narrowed it down to five, who were then brought in for interviews. The finalists also attended meet-and-greet receptions with the community, faculty and college staff in late July.
The board of trustees is supposed to send its top three picks to the state, which technically makes the final decision on HCC’s president.
When none of the finalists appealed to a critical mass of the trustees, however, the board narrowly voted 6 to 5 in early August to expand the search.
The consultant had cost the college $19,000. It cost another almost $3,000 to bring in the five finalists, including travel expenses, lodging and the receptions, according to the college finance office.
At a board of trustees meeting this week, the board decided to appoint a three-person subcommittee to come up with a process for what to do know. The committee must decide whether to start over or cull from the larger pool of initial applicants — or some combination of those two. Trustees Patsy Dowling, Richard Lanning and Bill Yarborough will sit on the committee.
Another subcommittee of three of the HCC trustees — Peggy Melville, Brian Briggs and Bill Barker — will come up with a process for selecting an interim president and bring it back to the full board to consider.
Enloe said it won’t be hard to find an interim president.
Its could be someone chosen internally from within the college or an experienced executive and leader from the community at large, of which there are plenty to choose from, Enloe said.