The Board of Regents has hired Elaine Hairston, a senior consultant with Academic Search, Inc., to help find a replacement for its executive director, Robert T. Tad Perry, who announced late last month that he would retire on July 1.
It is unclear whether or not Hairston was hired privately by Perry and Regents’ President Harvey Jewett or if the entire Board voted on the action. Records of the hiring process have not been found at the State Auditor’s Office or in the official BOR minutes.
The official minutes of the BOR meetings did not include information on Hairston being hired to find candidates for a new executive director. She is listed on the Academic Search Web site as being hired March 18.
David Bordewyk, general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, a trade association for the state’s daily and weekly newspapers that also lobbies on open government issues, said that since the executive director is the number one person at the Board of Regents, it is strange that the Regents would not talk about the search process in a public meeting or include that information in their minutes.
“It raises the question of accountability or visibility of what was the process there and where is the official action relating to that,” said Bordewyk.
Jim Shekleton, lawyer for the BOR said though a series of contracts do need a resolution to be signed by the Regents, the board would not need to pass a resolution to hire a search consultant.
“There is no mention in the minutes of Ms. Hairston on this search because the Regents have taken no action on the matter and will not do so until this April meeting,” Jewett said. “Matters were handled informally by Dr. Perry and myself.”
“Dr. Perry and I talked to [Hairston] about a search for the new executive director informally on several occasions and that she should keep her eyes out for good potential candidates,” Jewett said.
Not everyone at the BOR said that hiring Hairston was an informal process.
“We voted on it; we’ve used [Hairston] for filling several positions,” said Kathryn Johnson, secretary with the BOR.
Johnson said she believes they voted on hiring Hairston at the December 2008 Regents meeting.
Jewett later retracted the former statement that he and Perry hired Hairston privately by saying, “Dr. Perry has advised that he did sign a contract with Ms. Hairston, as he had in past searches.”
“[Perry] was probably signing the contract for the Board as a whole, because he is executive director,” said Johnson.
Robert Swanson, of the South Dakota Auditor’s Office, could not locate a consulting contract between the Board and Academic Search, Inc., for the executive director position on March 31.
All consulting contracts signed by the BOR are required to be filed with the state auditor. According to South Dakota Codified Law 1-24A-1, a consulting contract must be filed with the Auditor’s Office within five business days after a contract is entered into and approved by both parties. If Hairston was hired on March 18, the contract should have been filed with the auditor by March 25.
In a March 24 interview, Jewett said that Hairston was hired “several” months ago.
Jewett could not be reached for comment on whether the contract had been submitted to the State Auditor’s Office.
In 2005, Perry did officially retire from the Board but was later rehired into the same position he held before retiring: executive director of the BOR.
“When Dr. Perry was retired and rehired, he indicated that he would probably retire July 1, 2009,” Jewett said.
Perry did not publicly announce his retirement until March 18, but on March 23, said that the discussion of his retirement actually began in August 2008.
“It’s not a surprise that he’s retiring,” said Johnson. “We’ve been expecting it for quite some time.”
Jewett said there will be no separate search committee for the hiring of the new executive director. It will be made up mostly of Regents. When the Board meets to choose the executive director, the meeting date will be posted on the board’s Web site at least 24 hours prior to the meeting as required by South Dakota’s open meetings law.
“I decided that the Regents would prefer to handle this as a committee of the whole, so no committee per se has been formed,” said Jewett.
“A committee hasn’t really been determined,” said Johnson. “We may ask a few others, but it will be mostly Regents.”
The searches for other prominent positions have had more formal hiring committees. The official minutes of the Sept. 12, 2008, meeting stated that the Board had a special telephone meeting to formally appoint the Search and Screen Committee for the Presidential Search at Northern State University. The official committee had 12 members, including representatives from the community, the NSU Foundation, alumni, administration, faculty, students and another university in the BOR system.
Hairston’s firm, Academic Search, Inc., works exclusively with higher education organizations to find candidates for upper-level positions and is helping with the search for Perry’s replacement.
The date that Hairston was officially hired is still undetermined.
Hairston previously worked with the BOR on the search to find SDSU’s current President David L. Chicoine, on the presidential searches for South Dakota School of Mines and Technology’s President Robert A. Wharton and the presidential search for NSU’s President James Smith and on the search for the provost and vice president for academic affairs for NSU. In addition, she is helping with the search for SDSU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Managing Editor Amy Poppinga contributed to this story.