Independent look needed on CMS

Imagine you are one of the best or most promising school superintendents in the nation. Would you come to Charlotte?

Not without getting a whole lot of questions answered first, we expect. Heath Morrison’s sudden departure from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ top job – and the fuzzy circumstances surrounding it – will surely haunt the school system and its search for a new leader unless and until much more clarity is provided.

Some believe that it’s time to move on. It is emphatically not time to move on. It is time to look back and figure out precisely what happened, how and why it happened and how the school system will operate going forward. Hoping it will just “blow over” is the best way to ensure it won’t.

The only way to get a full accounting of Morrison’s dive from national superintendent of the year to being pushed out of CMS is to hire a truly independent outside counsel. This person or team of people would examine the accusations against Morrison but also, as importantly, the process the school board and general counsel George Battle III used to investigate Morrison and push him into resigning.

Public confidence in CMS is shaken because so many fundamental questions remain about the degree of Morrison’s alleged misbehavior, Battle’s influence within the organization and whether the school board understands how to operate in an effective and trustworthy way. It is crucial to address all that in order to restore public trust and attract a superb new leader.

Here are some of the questions we would hope an independent counsel could find answers to:

• Why did Morrison’s treatment of his assistant, Debi Baker, suddenly resurface 18 months after her complaint? Were there other complaints about Morrison’s treatment of employees?

• Should Battle have conducted an investigation of Morrison? Or did his position make it impossible, by definition, for him to conduct an impartial probe?

• Why did the full school board never meet to discuss the situation until it was nearly a done deal? Why did Battle talk to one or two board members at a time about what he was finding?

• Why did board chairman Mary McCray and vice chair Tim Morgan authorize Battle to keep digging after his initial findings rather than taking the situation to the whole board?

• Why did school board members, who were Morrison’s bosses, not talk to him about his conduct? Why wasn’t Morrison given a chance to speak to the allegations before school board members had made up their minds?

• Does the general counsel have an appropriate amount of influence in CMS? Do school board members pay the position too much deference?

• Is CMS leadership structured in a way that the next superintendent can have confidence that he or she will be treated fairly?

• Was it appropriate for an outside attorney who had misgivings about Morrison, Kevin Bringewatt, to have a role in conducting the investigation?

• Ann Clark is now acting as interim superintendent. What was her role in the whole affair?

• Who was interviewed for Battle’s report and who wasn’t, and how was that decided?

Nearly everyone involved agrees Morrison’s departure was unfortunate and not handled perfectly. It’s vital that CMS and the public learn from this episode so it can have effective leadership going forward. An independent outside counsel is best-equipped to make that happen.