Detroit Reform Board Fails to Select New CEO

State Appointee Exercises Veto against Majority

And then there were none.

After whittling a field of 320 candidates down to two finalists, the new Detroit school reform board now must restart the process of locating a permanent chief executive officer.

The seven-member board found five votes in support of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Public Schools Superintendent John W. Thompson, but it failed to secure the support of Mark Murray, the state's representative on the board. The law that replaced Detroit's elected school board with the reform board allows at least five members to hire a CEO, but requires the state's representative to be one of those five.

The seventh board member, Glenda Price, abstained from voting.

Murray supported the other finalist, J. Jerome Harris, a school consultant who has served as a superintendent in the districts of Atlanta, Brooklyn, and Compton, California.

Three members of the board-including Murray, Detroit Deputy Mayor and Board Chairman Freman Hendrix, and DaimlerChrysler executive W. Frank Fountain-will form a committee to search for additional candidates, possibly focusing upon applicants with backgrounds in business or the military. Hendrix has called for the board to make a decision within six weeks.

Murray's veto of the board's decision prompted some to call for revisions in the law that governs the reform board. Most notably, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer called for more control over the process.

"If you don't want to amend the legislation taking away the veto, then give me the responsibility," Archer said at a news conference. "Give me the responsibility for appointing all of the school board members; give me the responsibility for appointing the CEO and the relevant officers that will be needed."

Republican lawmakers dismissed these changes as unnecessary, but have hinted that additional gridlock on the board may prompt them to grant Governor John Engler the power to hire a CEO. Gubernatorial intervention, however, remains unlikely, according to John Truscott, press secretary for Engler.

Board members also expressed frustration both at their failure to hire a CEO and at the law that requires Murray's vote.

"But for this law, we had a super-majority of the board that agreed on a candidate," Hendrix told the Detroit Free Press. "Anyplace else in America, that would have been enough."

The board has been under pressure to make a decision as quickly as possible so that the new CEO can begin implementing reforms by the start of the new school year in the fall.

The 5-1 vote-particularly Murray's veto-also angered many in the 100-person crowd that attended the public decision.

"Mark Murray doesn't understand a community that fought for its rights," said Wayne County Commissioner Bernard Parker. "I feel like a slave; I feel like my master just told me what to do."

Explaining his decision to not support Thompson, Murray stressed the importance of test scores and stated that Thompson's record of improving scores was not satisfactory.

"I've said from the beginning that the right candidate needs to be able to demonstrate improved academic performance," Murray said.

The board's failure to hire a CEO has added an element of uncertainty to the search. Some believe that the vote could deter candidates from considering the job in Detroit. Additionally, qualified candidates are becoming more difficult to secure, as at least 12 other urban districts are presently searching for new leaders.

Hendrix also intimated that the vote could disrupt the fragile relationship between Detroit and Lansing.

"There has been a gulf that has existed between Lansing and Detroit, and tonight I'm afraid that gulf broadened," he said after the vote.

The new CEO will replace former Wayne State University president David Adamany, who has served since May on an interim basis. Adamany says he will continue in his position at least until his contract expires in mid-May of this year.