Editorial: Deadlock in Lebanon; Athletic Director’s Job Remains Vacant

It’s hard to know exactly what to make of last week’s Lebanon School Board dust-up over the hiring of a new athletic director for the high school. For one thing, the reasons given for what transpired don’t hold up under close scrutiny.

The board deadlocked 4-4 on the nomination of Barrett Williams, principal of Sharon Elementary School, for the job. (One member was absent). The four dissenters raised no concerns at the meeting about Williams’ qualifications for the job. Rather, they focused their ire entirely on the selection process, in which a search committee, led by high school principal Nan Parsons, vetted four candidates for the job and recommended two finalists to School Superintendent Gail Paludi, who in turn nominated Williams.

The claim that the four board members who blocked Williams’ appointment were motivated by objections to the process needs to be examined closely. One obvious question is that if Williams was qualified for the job, what was wrong with the process that led to his selection by the school administration? It would seem that the process worked as it should if the outcome was right.

Second, if Williams was a suitable choice, why would School Board members instead choose to leave the high school’s athletics program without a leader just as pre-season practices are beginning and school is right around the corner? Just to make a point about the process, which could certainly be changed prospectively rather than retrospectively?

Finally, if the focus of the dissenters was on the process, why did the two-hour discussion take place behind closed doors instead of in public? Hiring of public employees can be discussed privately under the state Right-to-Know law, but, as far as we know, no such exemption exists to discuss the process used by public bodies to fill jobs.

There is, of course, a back story here, as so often is the case in Lebanon. The narrative is not coherent at this point, but some of the elements seem clear. One is that there was also a local candidate for the job, who reportedly was one of the two finalists. How much that played into the outcome is anybody’s guess at this point.

Additionally, the field of candidates was limited by the fact that in Lebanon the athletic director must also have state certification as a principal because he or she is actually in charge of all co-curricular activities and must evaluate some employees.

Another factor, and perhaps the biggest one, is that news of Williams’ nomination for the job leaked and appeared in the Valley News before board members knew anything about it. When constituents called to ask what was going on, board members said, they couldn’t provide any information, much to their embarrassment and consternation. And in a community that assigns as much importance to sports as Lebanon does, the athletic director is obviously a key appointment.

This led board member Bob McCarthy to assert that a School Board member should be on “any search committee from vice-principals on up.” We suppose there is an argument to be made that a board liaison to search committees would make some sense if the purpose was simply to keep the board informed. But if the intent is for that board member to participate in search committee deliberations, that’s an invitation for the School Board to micromanage appointments when it is supposed to be setting policy.

But in any case, we see little point in depriving the athletics program of leadership because board members were irate about being left in the dark. That seems petty.