C of C 'studying' request on Benson

George Benson

College of Charleston officials will not immediately release copies of President George Benson's performance evaluations, documents the South Carolina Press Association says are public under the state's open records law.

Brian McGee, Benson's chief of staff, said Tuesday that university officials are reviewing the newspaper's request for the evaluations.

They are still waiting for information they need to determine if the documents must be released, he said. "We are not declining a request," he said. "We are studying it."

College officials Monday said they would not release the evaluations because they deal with "personal matters," and disclosing them would "constitute an unreasonable invasion of the president's personal privacy."

McGee said the college is not taking that position.

S.C. Press Association lawyer Jay Bender said the evaluations are public documents and should be released.

"It's a shame that the College of Charleston has to invent reasons to keep the public in the dark about the performance of a highly paid public official," he said.

The evaluations are important because they could shed some light on what the college's Board of Trustees thinks about Benson's performance.

The board must decide in the next few months if it will offer Benson a three-year contract extension.

Benson's original five-year contract runs through February 2012. But the contract has a clause that states that the board must decide by Feb. 28, 2011, if it will offer him the three-year extension.

Benson's annual salary is $366,202 -- $166,202 from the state and $200,000 from the College of Charleston Foundation.

Greg Padgett, chairman of the college's Board of Trustees, said the board will decide whether to extend the contract by the Feb. 28 deadline. He said he didn't know if the discussion will come up at the board's next regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 21, or if the board will call a special meeting to deal with the contract. Either way, the board will vote publicly on the extension, he said.

Benson has had annual performance evaluations since he started the job in 2007.

According to his contract, Benson also must decide if he wants to sign on for another three years.

He said he wants to continue as the college's president. "I very much hope they offer me an extension," he said.