CMS’ top lawyer leaves, named risk management lead at UNC Chapel Hill

George Battle, general counsel for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, will leave the district in January for a new position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CMS announced Monday.

Battle will begin as vice chancellor of institutional integrity and risk management at UNC-Chapel Hill next year. The newly-created position consolidates a number of oversight responsibilities, interim chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said in a press release. The job includes public safety.

Battle guided CMS through its legal affairs for the past nine years, including advising board members on concerns over municipal charters and investigating former Superintendent Heath Morrison. As CMS attorney, Battle ultimately recommending Morrison’s firing.

“We are very sorry to lose George, who has provided such outstanding service to our district,” board chair Mary McCray said in a statement Monday.

“We have relied heavily on his leadership and his counsel for almost a decade. He has guided us through some very tough times with skill and grace.”

In 2014, Battle was tasked with investigating allegations against Morrison, including complaints about the former superintendent’s behavior and costs for a CMS school on the UNC-Charlotte campus. Battle authored a nine-page report outlining criticisms of Morrison’s leadership and, according to a 2015 Observer article, Battle recommended the board fire Morrison because of the “legal and reputational risk” to the district. Morrison resigned six days later.

Battle and the CMS legal department were also involved with drafting the 2018 Municipal Concerns Act, the Observer reported, which deprioritized construction and capital spending in the suburban towns that signed on to House Bill 514. That state legislation allows the towns to create municipal charter schools, which are publicly-funded schools that may limit attendance based on residency.

During his tenure as general counsel, Battle brought much of the district’s legal operations in-house. The district said that in the past nine years, CMS’s reliance on outside legal counsel decreased by roughly 80%, and its legal costs declined as well.

Silent Sam and public safety

At UNC Chapel Hill, Battle will take the lead on managing compliance, risk and public safety on campus.

“Safety-related incidents — both recent and in the past year — have made it clear that we need a central office to coordinate public safety and risk management across the entire University,” Guskiewicz said in a statement Monday.

Last August, demonstrators pulled down the statue of Silent Sam, a monument to UNC alumni who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Student groups and protesters had organized a years-long campaign to take down the statue. The 2018 protests led to more than a dozen arrests in connection with the toppling of the statue, according to The (Raleigh) News & Observer and The (Durham) Herald-Sun.

Months after the statue was torn down, demonstrations continued in response to a proposal to house Silent Sam in a $5.3 million education and history center at the edge of campus. The December protests resulted in at least one arrest.

Leaving CMS

Battle is the fourth person to act as general counsel to the school district and he is the longest-serving person to hold the position, according to CMS officials.

The 46-year-old is a Charlotte native. He graduated from West Charlotte High School in 1991 and he is the son of Bishop George Battle Jr., who served on the CMS board for 17 years.

The younger Battle’s return to UNC-Chapel Hill is a sort of homecoming — he received his undergraduate and law degrees from Chapel Hill in 1995 and 1999, respectively. Prior to joining CMS, he was an attorney for Carolinas Health Care System, now Atrium Health.

“Working for CMS has been an amazing experience,” Battle said in a statement.

“I will miss my wonderful friends and colleagues, but I am very excited for the opportunity to return to my alma mater and pursue a new adventure.”