Sunday, November 27, 2022

Former CFCC trustee decides against legal battle over wrongful board termination by Olson-Boseman 

Jimmy Hopkins

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — A former board of trustees member from Cape Fear Community College has decided to halt legal proceedings over his contested removal.

Jimmy Hopkins was ousted from the board Sept. 26 via a letter from New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman. The message specified his termination for excessive absences from CFCC board meetings.

READ MORE: County’s building purchase for CFCC is aimed at the nursing shortage. Here’s how it could help

Hopkins raised questions about the justification, specifically the legality of the board chair’s action. North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 115D has no language indicating a commissioner chair can remove local community college board members. 

First appointed by former Gov. Bev Perdue in 2012, Hopkins was reappointed to CFCC’s board in June of 2020 by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. The statute outlines commissioners in Pender and New Hanover, the New Hanover County School board and the governor appoint board members.

Each elected body chooses four trustees, except for Pender, which gets one. The two remaining seats are reserved for the student government president and the community college president. Trustees control the membership, including removal of members, thereafter.

Hopkins told Port City Daily he spent $10,000 on lawyer fees to fight Olson-Boseman’s action to terminate his service. He and his lawyers believe she was not within rights to take charge of the decision; thus, meaning Hopkins was still a board member. He planned to disregard the chairwoman’s dismissal letter and attend CFCC’s November meeting as a sitting member.

Yet, he had a change of heart over the weekend.

Hopkins sent a formal resignation letter (read fully below) to the chairwoman and the CFCC Board of Trustees dated Sunday, Oct. 16. He wrote he was grateful for the chance to serve on the board over the last decade yet also alluded to transparency issues at the college.

“[W]hile I regret the need for me to resign as a Trustee and thus no longer be in a position to advocate for the students, faculty and staff of CFCC on issues that deeply concern me of late, I believe that light will always prevail over darkness and eventually, the light of truth will prevail at CFCC,” Hopkins wrote.

First reported by WHQR and WECT, Hopkins’ removal made headlines shortly after his disagreement with CFCC President Jim Morton about the county’s purchase of 319 N. Front Street downtown for $11.9 million. The school’s goal is to nearly triple the size of the college’s nursing program to help fill the gap in the nursing shortage. 

Hopkins claimed he was informed about a proposed deal for the county to buy the building on Sept. 9 via a phone call with Morton and was asked to compel county commissioners to support the project. 

It was the first he had heard about the deal, despite his position as chair of the board of trustees’ facilities committee. Hopkins told PCD he had concerns with it: namely if other sites had been considered or if the college had examined retrofitting an existing facility. Hopkins did not know enough about the project at the time to support it, he said.

Less than three weeks later, he was removed from the board, and on Oct. 3, commissioners signed off on the building purchase, without having an appraisal on the property. If the deal comes to fruition, the county expects to sink another $14.8 million into renovating the facility.

Hopkins said he reached out to every member on the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners the same day he received his removal letter from Olson-Boseman to ask what process was followed to enact such a measure. He never received a response.

Olson-Boseman’s Sept. 26 letter specifies Hopkins was released of his duties due to missing three or more meetings this four-year term.

CFCC board meetings are typically held every other month. After reviewing meeting minutes, PCD found Hopkins missed eight board meetings between July 2020 and July 2022, but other sitting members also missed three or more during that same period. Bruce Moskowitz did not attend eight, Paula Sewell missed four, and Mary Lyons Rouse, who reached the end of her term earlier this year, missed three.

The difference between the absences: Hopkins didn’t attend three meetings consecutively between September of 2020 and March of 2021.

Hopkins said he always had a reason for missing meetings and informed the clerk each time. CFCC does not have a formal process for making a distinction between excused and unexcused absences.

N.C. General Statutes Chapter 115D-19 (b) outlines removing trustees due to absences: “A board of trustees may declare vacant the office of a member who does not attend three consecutive, scheduled meetings without justifiable excuse.”

The statute does not grant county commissioners the power to remove appointees and Olson-Boseman’s letter only addresses absences in general, not consecutive nonappearances.

However, the commissioners maintain a policy that conflicts with state law:

“Whenever any appointee shall incur three (3) unexcused absences, said appointee’s failure to attend shall be reported by the presiding officer of the respective board, committee, commission, or authority to the Chair of the Board of Commissioners.”

Olson-Boseman did not respond to a request for comment.

Hopkins never officially filed a lawsuit, though he retained lawyers from Wilmington firm Rountree Losee. He said, primarily, he did not want to get into a protracted legal battle with the county.

“I realize after a week what fighting legally means timewise, financially,” Hopkins said. “To what end are we going to go to? They were not willing to back down.”

Still, Hopkins said, even though he will not pursue it further by law, he is correct he was wrongfully removed.

Below is his resignation letter in full.

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