ORANGEBURG, SC (WIS) - South Carolina State University's Board of Trustees voted, in a unanimous voice vote Tuesday, to keep an upcoming performance evaluation of its president a secret. The board made the decision just as it prepares to start its evaluation of Dr. George Cooper whose annual salary is $144,911, this week.
The move came after a board member handed a copy of Cooper's 2010 evaluation over to the media last year. "We want to ratify; to get away from what happened last year when a board member who leaked it to the press," said board chairman Jonathan Pinson. "To make sure we don't have those issues again,"
In the 2010 evaluation, which led to a board vote to fire Cooper last June, board members gave Cooper failing grades on leadership, trust and future planning for the university. The evaluation went on to state that Cooper is, "Not an effective leader, Inadequate spokesperson, Established no vision, Lack of executive appearances (attire/grooming), Not respected by State and community leaders, and Lacks energy for the job." The evaluation was never turned in to the State Salary Head Commission, which is required by state law. The commission uses evaluations on college presidents to set salaries and approve pay raises.
"Coming out of human resources, that is a personnel matter and I think you have to treat it as such because of the laws that govern all personnel matters," said Pinson. "All personnel records for employees."
"The board is making decisions without once having read the law," public records attorney Jay Bender said Tuesday. "If they put it in a document, then the document is public record and failure to release it is illegal." Bender has won several legal challenges against public agencies over their misinterpretation of the state's Freedom of Information Act.
"I don't think SC State needs any more accusations of questionable or illegal conduct," Bender said of the university's vote, "They are making things up."
The board also voted to hire Charleston attorney, Peters Wilborn, to help the board comply with the state's FOIA laws, according to board member Matthew Richardson. Wilborn's hiring was the subject of heated debate that turned into an argument among several members during Tuesday's meeting.
Trustee Walter Tobin questioned Pinson over the process of hiring Wilborn and how the decision was made. Pinson said he and "a few of the board's executive committee" decided to hire Wilborn because "he had followed the university's history."
"Just hearing somebody who knew that history, then you knew they really had been following the university and could really help us," Pinson said.
"How many did we talk to," Tobin asked. "I'm not getting into that [explicative]," Pinson replied, before moving to take the board into executive session.
Cooper's evaluation is due to the State Salary Head Commission Sept. 1, but the commission could push the date back if SC State requests it. Calls to the commission to find out when the last evaluation from SC State was submitted were not returned Tuesday as of this report.