Top candidate to lead Community College Board withdraws

Mississippi’s Community College Board is likely to restart its search for an executive director after the candidate favored by half the 10-member board withdrew following a five-month stalemate over hiring her.

Board Chairman Bruce Martin of Meridian said Wednesday that Debra West, the board’s deputy director of programs and accountability, ended her candidacy by email Monday.

West pulled her name after a multihour session Friday where the board again failed to resolve the 5-5 tie that has split it since December. She did not respond Wednesday to a phone call and an email seeking comment…

…Martin said the board is likely to appoint an interim leader next month to take over when current Executive Director Eric Clark retires in June. The board coordinates the state’s 15 independently governed community and junior colleges.

Gov. Phil Bryant was accused of improperly influencing the search, urging the board in a November letter to drop requirements for an academic doctorate or experience in educational administration and emphasize job training. That move drew concern from the regional accrediting agency for colleges and universities.

Bryant has denied improper involvement. Martin said Friday that Bryant had asked that the board include Tray Hairston, a lawyer who was a policy adviser to Bryant in 2012 and 2013, among candidates it considered.

Spokeswoman Nicole Webb said Bryant is no longer seeking broader job qualifications.

“In a good-faith effort to help the board move forward in its search process, the governor has withdrawn his suggestion that the board consider experience related to workforce training and development when selecting a candidate,” Webb wrote in an email.