Kent: Before a final decision was reached in January, Kent State’s search for a new president may have come down to two finalists, according to records released by the university.
The university paid its search firm for two press checks and two media background screenings for candidates to replace retiring President Lester Lefton.
That led to the appointment of Beverly Warren, provost of Virginia Commonwealth University.
But details of the nine-month, $250,000-plus search remain obscure.
While Kent State has provided at least three batches of public records at the request of the Akron Beacon Journal, the invoices do not include the names of those interviewed and who the other finalist was, if indeed there was one.
In a phone interview, KSU general counsel Willis Walker said his office has forwarded Beacon Journal records requests to the search firm, Storbeck Pimentel and Associates of Media, Pa., and allowed the search firm to determine what the newspaper would receive.
He said some records sought by the Beacon Journal may be proprietary or may no longer exist.
“What we sent is what they sent,” Walker said. “Nothing required them to keep the records. It may be their practice to not keep records. It is probably their internal process to keep it as private as possible.”
A request for comment from Storbeck Pimentel about why the records were not provided has gone unanswered. “I don’t think they have any interest in talking to you,” Walker said.
The Ohio Public Records Act says resumes and application materials obtained by public offices in the hiring process are to be made public.
“A public office’s obligation to turn over application materials and resumes extends to records in the sole possession of private search firms used in the hiring process,” according to the Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Sunshine Law Manual. “The fact that a public office has promised confidentiality to applicants is irrelevant.”
Kent State’s contract with Storbeck Pimentel runs counter to that, giving the search firm the “opportunity to restrict disclosure of the information that it considers to be proprietary or confidential.”
KSU took great care to cloak its search in privacy. It required the 17 search committee members to guarantee confidentiality, according to Walker, set up a secure website on which committee members could review materials and held some meetings off campus, in one case overnight in Cleveland.
It directed limousine drivers to chauffeur what appeared to be three candidates from hotels to the KSU College of Podiatric Medicine in Independence for confidential interviews with the KSU trustees — a bold move given that news reporters were waiting in the lobby for a trustee meeting to begin.
KSU foresaw that risk: “Back into garage doors, which will be opened for you on arrival,” KSU advised limousine drivers.
Kent state hired Storbeck Pimentel for $161,000 plus expenses to recruit and vet candidates and to advise search members on the selection process, none of which has been made public.
Still, Storbeck Pimentel’s invoices to KSU provide some tantalizing glimpses of how the search was conducted.
For example, the search firm provided detailed invoices of its own staff’s travel on behalf of the university, complete with dated receipts for the smallest of purchases.
Susan VanGilder submitted receipts for $1.75 in turnpike tolls and $10.33 in gas in Middleburg Heights in July; Julia Patton bought almost $3 in peanut butter bark at the Philadelphia airport and spent $107 on a taxi from Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport to KSU in August.
When it comes to applicant travel, though, those details are absent. The invoices only include the total being billed.
The search firm billed KSU 12 times for “prospect travel” that totaled $15,500, including $746, $374 and $1,242 on Jan. 15.
The search firm also billed KSU for two press checks at $1,500 and $1,925 and two media background screenings at $938 and $515. It is not clear what the difference is between a press check and a media background screening and the invoices do not name the vendors or when the transaction was conducted.
The only report provided was for Warren, the lone finalist and winning candidate. The “press check” was provided by the Mintz Group of New York City.
The Dec. 10 report, labeled confidential, uncovered three “noteworthy” press mentions for Warren — her promotions. A social media mention in November indicated that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia had dismissed a case regarding tenure in which Warren was a defendant.
Storbeck Pimentel also billed KSU $1,525 for an unspecified number of binders on Dec. 10.
Willis, the KSU attorney, said the university would continue to make records available as they become available from the search firm.
The Beacon Journal continues to seek records related to the presidential search.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3729.