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Schools: Residents claim bias in hiring for district safety post

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Three county residents say a qualified black candidate was overlooked for the Georgetown County School District’s new position as director of safety and risk management and scolded the school board this week for not hiring more African-American men at the district office.

The school board hired Alan Walters, a former magistrate who is white, for the job last month. The $72,600-a-year job is a new position created when the former risk manager left last year.

The board’s decision came over the objection of Arthur Lance, its vice chairman. “There’s no way I can sit up here and support that person as a candidate for that position,” he said. He has declined to elaborate on his reasons.

“You failed to hire an African-American male with more qualifications,” Harold Jean Brown, a former school board member, told the current board this week. “There are no African-American males employed by the district [office] on a supervisory level.”

She also chided School Board Chairman Jim Dumm, saying he should have recused himself because the applicant who didn’t get the job had once arrested his son. Dumm declined to comment. “I don’t want to get down in the gutter,” he said.

Brown declined to say who she was talking about or how she knew he was a finalist.

The district has not released the names of the finalists. State law requires the release of information about at least three finalists. Superintendent Randy Dozier said there were four or five for the safety job and he would provide information about them once he notifies the candidates.

Marvin Neal, a former member of the county Planning Commission, said he spoke to board members after the vote and was told they didn’t know who the top candidates were. “Shame on you,” he said. “It’s embarrassing to know this happened in Georgetown County.”

Neal also spoke to the board at its meeting before the vote on Walters, but only to encourage the district to hire more black males at the district and school level. In both appearances, he praised the quality of the school system, but said the board needs to do more.

“Let’s try to do the right thing next time,” Neal said.

Florine Linnen claimed that Walters was hired for political reasons and out of friendship. “You apparently don’t see the issue we are having,” she told the board. “It’s time for us to look and be fair.”

Walters started work this week. He was a magistrate for 12 years and a law enforcement officer in the county for years. He has taught seminars in court security for the National Judicial College.

Walters will oversee safety programs that were expanded after the December 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn. Those include law enforcement officers at each school and at school and district events along with upgrades to make buildings more resistant to would-be attackers. The district spends close to $1 million a year on security. The facility upgrades are budgeted at $1.2 million.

“We had a qualified black candidate,” said Neal. He and the other speakers at the board meeting are also black. “This position should not have been taken so lightly.”

Brown pointed out that the district has operated under the supervision of the U.S. Justice Department for 40 years following a desegregation order from the federal courts. “You should be advocating fairness and equality,” she said.

She said afterward that she didn’t want the board to reverse its decision to hire Walters, but she wants it to do better in the future.

Dozier said some of the comments were not accurate. “We talked about [the candidates] with the board,” he said.

The safety director position attracted a large field, he said. “We had a number of qualified applicants,” Dozier said. “I’m glad that they’re interested in working for us.”

He said the district places a priority on hiring minorities. “We have an excellent hiring record,” Dozier said. “We’re really trying to find the best candidate.”

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