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Selecting a single finalist rates an F

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By Greg Romberg

Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right. Or, perhaps more importantly, smart.

When the Jefferson County Board of Education designated Daniel McMinimee as the sole finalist to serve as the new superintendent of schools, it met the requirements of Colorado law. What the board — or, more specifically, the board’s majority of Ken Witt, John Newkirk and Julie Williams — didn’t do was to learn from earlier miscues that how you do things is just as important as what you do.

Public bodies in Colorado are required to name finalists for executive positions at least 14 days prior to hiring. While the law does not designate how many people constitute finalists, as soon as the pool is at three or less, those people are automatically considered finalists.

The rationale behind the law is that the 14-day period gives the public a chance to vet finalists and make sure there are no surprises before a final decision is made. Additionally, with multiple candidates, a chance for the public to see the top candidates typically provides some level of public confidence as members of the public see a little more clearly how decisions are made.

There are times when it makes sense to select a single finalist, most notably when an acting or interim appointment is made final. I have a fair amount of experience in these kinds of hiring decisions. During my four-year tenure as a member of the State Board of Community Colleges and Occupational Education, I was involved in appointing 11 college presidents around Colorado. In one instance, we designated a single finalist. In that instance, she had been a vice president at one of our institutions and an interim president in another. And even with those experiences behind her, we provided a variety of community leaders the opportunity to veto a sole finalist for the position before making the decision to proceed in that manner.

In all the other instances, we named multiple finalists, invited them to meet the community and made final decisions. I had favored candidates when we named multiple finalists, and in most cases, the process of making all the finalists subject to public review solidified my initial impressions. However, there were times when seeing how the public reacted to our candidates, and vice versa, shifted my thoughts.

Ultimately, the majority of the Board of Education retains the authority to choose the next superintendent regardless of how many finalists are named. Selecting a single finalist carries the risk of undermining the public’s trust in the new superintendent, as some members of the public will undoubtedly believe that there are hidden agendas and that the single finalist wouldn’t stack up if other finalists had been named and made available to the public.

I cannot imagine that McMinimee will not be hired for this position, and the people who care about public education in this county owe him the opportunity to succeed or fail on his own merits. But, in retrospect, the board did him no favors by naming him the only finalist and subjecting him, unnecessarily, to public doubt.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.