Black pols call for chairman’s resignation
BY MARGIE MENZEL
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE − As relations between Florida A&M University’s president and board chairman reached a new low this week, lawmakers who are FAMU alumni called Wednesday for Chairman Rufus Montgomery to resign his post − but he quickly refused.
Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, Sen. Dwight Bullard of Miami, Rep. Mia Jones of Jacksonville, Rep. Alan Williams of Tallahassee and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum − all Democrats and FAMU alumni − called for Montgomery’s resignation following months of conflict.
“It is apparent that it has reached a point where it’s unreasonable, divisive, and detrimental to the university, to the students and to the graduates,” Joyner said.
Montgomery responded with a statement saying he would stay on the job.
“While certain elected officials have always stood behind FAMU, their vantage point doesn’t afford them the same level of interaction or responsibility required of the chairman of the board and other trustees,” he wrote. “For the good of the institution and to prevent charges of undue political interference, I hope that our elected officials will allow our board to do the job we were appointed to do.”
The exchange follows the latest clash Monday, when Montgomery accused FAMU President Elmira Mangum of insubordination for hanging up on him. Also Monday, she sent him a letter saying he’d violated her employee rights. She wrote that Montgomery had called her while she was busy, wanting to speak with her immediately, and ignored her requests for time to revamp her schedule.
“We want to move it out of the personal,” said Gillum, who as a former FAMU student body president also served as a trustee. “The situation and the circumstances are so dire … that we stand here as caring alumni of Florida A&M University to request humbly that the chairman look past himself and look past the president and the personality conflicts between the two of them and step aside as the board chairman.”
Two weeks ago, trustees approved a plan for Mangum to provide them with comprehensive monthly progress reports between now and a November meeting, when they will again consider her performance. The trustees also approved an annual evaluation of Mangum, who has been on the job for little more than a year.
At the early August meeting, Vice Chairman Kelvin Lawson proposed that Mangum provide monthly progress reports. Trustee Bettye Grable suggested that the president also include supporting documentation.
Trustee Lucas Boyce, however, said he didn’t want the board to “hamstring” Mangum with additional requirements, especially in light of recent efforts to “reset” their relationship.
“I would prefer we allow the president to do the report, and then if it doesn’t have the meat and the information that we require as a board, then we make the motion that we tie all these criteria to it,” he said. “In the spirit of the reset, we should give her the benefit of the doubt.”
Boyce was the only trustee to oppose requiring the supporting data. But Mangum was unfazed, saying she’d designed a tool for providing data as well as narrative information in her reports.
“At six months, you’ll see where we are, but you’ll also see the progress we have made and the activities associated with it,” she told the trustees.
The board also agreed to a proposal to review Mangum’s reports and receive a verbal update from her to its November meeting.
In July, trustees concluded that Mangum, formerly the vice president for planning and budget at Cornell University, hadn’t met expectations in four of 10 categories. Two trustees contended she hadn’t met expectations in any of them.
Among other things, trustees have complained about Mangum’s hiring decisions and poor communication with them. But they have also been accused of micromanaging FAMU’s day-to-day operations.
But it was clear that Mangum had already taken steps to improve relations with at least some of the trustees.
Trustee Robert Woody − who earlier this summer had given Mangum one of her poorest evaluations − thanked her last week for a series of phone calls and a recent visit to Gainesville, where he also serves on the board of Santa Fe College.
“I’ve been getting calls every Friday, and she’s been keeping me abreast of various issues,” Woody said.
He added that Mangum had attended meetings in Gainesville with University of Florida President Kent Fuchs, Santa Fe College President Jackson Sasser and Alachua County Schools Superintendent Owen Roberts, along with a reception for local leaders and FAMU alumni.
As the early August meeting wound down, trustee Belinda Shannon urged the board to consider expectations for its own performance as well as Mangum’s. She also noted that the board is likely to hold a retreat in the near future and suggested it use part of the time “really refining our vision.”
“We’ve spent a tremendous amount of time over the last several meetings on the presidential evaluation,” Shannon said. “We’ve spent time giving statements on internal relationships. But I think that we as a board also have some work to do in clarifying what we represent as a board and how we expect to get to that result.”
At the time, Mangum said that it would not be “constructive” to take offense at the board’s moves.
“We’re doing everything we can to cooperate and meet their needs for information and involvement,” she said. “That’s the best we can do.”
Legislators want inquiry
In June, Joyner, Bullard and Jones led lawmakers calling on the Board of Governors − which oversees the state university system − for an inquiry into whether the trustees were overstepping their authority.
“We’re not asking for the board of trustees to rubberstamp any issues or initiatives that the president has,” Williams said Wednesday. “But we are asking for a united front, a team, and we don’t have that.”
The elected officials said they’d been inundated with calls and emails as the situation escalated.
They also said that only Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed Montgomery to the board, could intervene.
But Joyner noted that the appointments of four trustees would be up at the end of 2015.
Meanwhile, the possibility of yet another short-term FAMU presidency drew mixed reactions from supporters of the university.
“She’s a very smart lady,” said former state Sen. Al Lawson, who lost a bid to be FAMU president in January 2014, when Mangum was hired. “But sometimes things are just not meant to be.”
Bob Ruggles, the retired dean of FAMU’s School of Journalism and Graphic Communications, said he was “very worried.”
“I think if it gets to the point where the board fires her, it’ll be a precipitous decision,” he said. “They need to give her time to get things straightened out and let her work on the goals that they set, and let’s see where it goes.”
Leon County Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Lindley said she doesn’t give Mangum “high points for her charm and communication skills.”
“Largely, though, I think the trustees − they have hired this woman, and then to immediately begin undermining her is outrageous, and very unprofessional,” Lindley said. “And I don’t know where in corporate or academic or political life you see that.”