Ally of FAMU president elected to chair board of trustees

BY MARGIE MENZEL
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

TALLAHASSEE – After a turbulent period at Florida A&M University, an ally of embattled President Elmira Mangum was elected on Nov. 20 to chair the school’s Board of Trustees – and vowed to approach the job as a “molder of consensus.”

151127_florida02Cleve Warren, chief financial officer at Florida State College at Jacksonville, was the board’s choice to succeed former Chairman Rufus Montgomery, who resigned from the post last month after failed efforts to fire Mangum. Montgomery, an Atlanta-based lobbyist, has remained a board member.

A retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, Warren accepted the chairmanship by quoting the Persian philosopher Rumi, who spoke of “a field out there that is beyond our disparate notions of wrongdoing and right-doing.”

“On that plain, we will put aside our minor differences and be strengthened by the major interest we have in the prosperity and posterity of Florida A&M University,” Warren said.

Montgomery opposed
That approach could be a departure from Montgomery, who was accused of trying to micromanage Mangum and, when that went awry, of trying to bully her. Their clash burned up much of the board’s time and energy and drew unwelcome attention from Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system

On Oct. 22, after two votes to fire the president narrowly failed, students marched to the state Capitol to support her. The next day, Montgomery resigned as chairman, but is expected to remain on the board at least until early January, when Scott must either reappoint or replace him.

At last Friday’s meeting, which was held by conference call, Montgomery alone opposed Trustee Robert Woody’s nomination of Warren.

“Are you putting FAMU first if you select an employee of one of our competitors to lead our board?” Montgomery asked, referring to Warren’s job at Florida State College at Jacksonville. “I think that sends the wrong message.”

Montgomery kept silent
He called Warren “a nice guy, but … our board should be led by someone who’s free from potential financial conflict. It’s my understanding that he’s a paid employee, $150,000 plus benefits in taxpayer dollars, as a paid employee of one of our competitors. We still recruit heavily in Jacksonville.”

No other trustees responded, and the board proceeded to vote on Warren’s nomination. When the roll call reached Montgomery, four trustees had voted for Warren, including supporters and opponents of the president.

“Trustee Montgomery?” called university attorney Linda Barge-Miles.

There was silence. After several attempts and a 35-second delay, the vote continued until it stood at 10-0 for Warren. Montgomery could not be reached for comment after the vote.

Mangum’s response
Mangum issued a statement after the meeting saying she was “excited about the opportunity” to work with Warren as chairman.

“Trustee Warren has a deep passion for FAMU and higher education in general,’’ Mangum said. “I look forward to the insight and wisdom he will offer to many of our strategic areas of emphasis, including his expertise in economic development, urban education, financial planning, and community outreach.”

Warren ran against Montgomery for the chairmanship in April but lost in a 9-4 vote. One of Warren’s supporters at the time, former FAMU Trustee Marjorie Turnbull, described him as “very fair. He reasons his positions. …He brings people together rather than divides them, and that’s really important at this time in the board’s life.”

Healing ‘on the horizon’
Tallahassee attorney Chuck Hobbs, a FAMU graduate and popular blogger who supports Mangum, said Warren’s background in finance and the military should lead to him working well with the president.

“Some of the more cancerous elements that have plagued this president from the beginning of her tenure are now being removed,” Hobbs said. “And I do believe the healing that is necessary for the university is on the horizon.”

Mangum was hired as president in January 2014. She had been Cornell University’s vice president for budget and planning.

As the first permanent woman president in FAMU history – and the first not to have attended the university – she had opponents on the board even before moving to campus that April. She was widely criticized for not communicating well with the board, especially after Montgomery became chairman.

But Hobbs predicted that would change with Warren in the post.

Warren’s resume includes stints as executive director of the Florida Black Business Investment Board under former Gov. Bob Martinez and as chief of economic development under former Jacksonville Mayor Ed Austin.

According to the FAMU website, he earned his bachelor’s degree in banking and finance from the University of North Florida and his master’s degree in business administration from Jacksonville University.

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