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Pima axes consultant in botched chancellor search
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Pima axes consultant in botched chancellor search

  • Sheehan
    PCCSheehan

Pima Community College is rebooting its search for a new leader, just days after learning that a consultant failed to tell PCC that a finalist in that search had been implicated in overbilling at a former post.

The college's Governing Board voted Tuesday to fire that consultant, hire a new one, and extend the search while allowing the other finalist to remain on the sort list.

The college is "marching foward," board chair Brenda Even said.

At a special meeting, the board voted unanimously to hire the Association of Community College Trustees as an executive search consultant, and end the $60,000 contract with R.H. Perry & Associates, the Washington, D.C., firm that was vetting candidates.

Last week, Dr. Maria C. Sheehan, president of Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, withdrew from consideration after college officials learned that she was connected to fudged enrollment and $5.2 million in overbilling during her tenure at a former college.

Last Thursday, the search process was put on hold until the Governing Board could meet.

Sheehan and Terrence J. Burgess, Ph.D., the president of San Diego City College, were announced two weeks ago as the finalists as Pima seeks a replacement for longtime college head Roy Flores.

From 2001-2007, Sheehan was the president of College of the Desert, in Palm Desert, Calif. That school overstated its enrollment and overbilled the state between 2003 and 2010, California auditors said late last year.

California's Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team characterized the practice as potential fraud, and the school will have to repay $5.2 million, California Watch reported in November.

The fiscal team's report said College of the Desert's "senior management team" knew the school was submitting false reports.

Sheehan told California Watch that she did not know of the exaggeration of enrollment figures.

“I would never do anything like that,” Sheehan said. “That’s ridiculous for any president to try to skim around numbers that are inaccurate.”

Sheehan did not respond to TucsonSentinel.com's request for comment.

Sheehan did not disclose the issue to the search committee, said PCC spokesman C.J. Karamargin last week.

"The vetting process was flawed," he said.

Search committee leaders Brenda Even and David Longoria, who sit on the college's Governing Board, aren't pleased that R.H. Perry missed the overbilling, Karamargin said.

He said it was "a fair assessment" that Pima "did not get the services they were offered."

The news was "a total surprise to us," Even said on the John C. Scott Show on Friday.

Sheehan was interviewed by the search committee and consultants in mid-January, Karamargin said, well after the California report was released on Nov. 28.

The consultant's role was to "find candidates who would be good for the college, and vet them," he said. The members of the search committee were to determine which of the candidates would be a good fit for the college and the community.

"Any info about their past, the committee relied on the search consultant."

Liz Rocklin, the R.H. Perry consultant who worked on Pima's search, refused to comment Friday and abruptly hung up the phone.

Karamargin said he believes a refund "is something the Board will explore."

"Clearly, when you enter into a contract for a service, and you do not believe you've been provided that service, you have an issue," he said.

"We couldn't believe that our search consultant couldn't come up with that information," she said.

Karamargin said allowing Burgess to remain a finalist in a restarted search would be the right thing to do, but he won't get the post by default.

"You can't have a valid search with only one candidate," he said. "He was selected as a finalist and he can remain as a finalist."

"It is the Board’s plan to have a new chancellor at work by July," said board chair Even in a Wednesday news release. "We are marching forward."

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