S.C. State to keep review secret

George Cooper

ORANGEBURG -- S.C. State University's Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to keep confidential the president's next performance evaluation, a move an attorney for the S.C. Press Association called illegal.

Board Chairman Jonathan Pinson said the board would treat President George Cooper's evaluation as a private personnel matter. The board has no intention of releasing the document to the public, he said.

The board voted unanimously in a voice vote at its meeting at the university.

Cooper's evaluation is due at the state's Agency Head Salary Commission Sept. 1, but it might be completed a bit later than that, Pinson said. A board committee is now being formed to deal with the evaluation.

Press Association attorney Jay Bender said that if the board creates a document, that document is a public record. "Failure to release it would be illegal," he said. "There is no such thing as a personnel exception in the public records section of the law."

Representatives from the state's Budget and Control Board did not respond by the end of the day about whether it would allow the commission to withhold a performance evaluation from the public.

The Board of Trustees, after conducting Cooper's performance evaluation in June 2010, voted not to extend the president's contract, effectively firing him.

A newly configured board rehired him as president about two weeks later.

The board never filed Cooper's evaluation with the Agency Head Salary Commission, Pinson said. But a board member subsequently released the document to the media.

Pinson said the action taken Tuesday is aimed at preventing board members from publicly releasing such documents in the future.

Pinson also said he didn't know how much Cooper currently was being paid.

Cooper was hired in 2008 with a salary of about $200,000, about $145,000 of that from the state and $55,000 from the University Advancement Foundation.

Pinson was chairman of the board last year when the majority of the board voted to let Cooper go. But he voted with the minority.

Donna Foster, with the Office of State Human Resource Management, made a presentation to the board Tuesday on how to properly conduct an evaluation for the Agency Head Salary Commission. Foster said she is conducting such trainings at agencies across the state.

She told the board that some people think agency head evaluations should be private, while others think they are public documents.

"I'm not saying it's one way or the other," Foster said after the meeting. "That's not our staff's role to make that call."

In other board business:

--The board met behind closed doors for five hours to discuss contractual and personnel matters, but did not specify what those matters were.

--Charleston attorney D. Peters Wilborn Jr. was included in the executive session. The board's Executive Committee hired Wilborn last week. He works with the Derfner, Altman & Wilborn law firm.

Board members Walter Tobin and Maurice Washington asked whether the entire board should be involved in hiring an attorney.

The full board took a vote after the executive session and voted unanimously to hire Wilborn.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.