Last week, a Special Meeting of the Maricopa County Community College District’s Governing Board was called unexpectedly to address a proposed Resolution of Censure of Board member Kathleen Winn. The rushed meeting and ultimate vote of censure took Winn, her attorney, and her supporters by surprise.
Winn was censured based on allegations that she had interfered with the search for the District’s new chancellor. According to the findings of an investigation spearheaded by the head of the Search Committee, Dr. Linda Thor, Winn had worked to prevent a candidate from being placed on a semi-final selection list.
Winn is accused in a report prepared by the investigator, attorney Amy Gittler, of both contacting the candidate and the search firm’s representative Gene Head as part of her alleged effort to fix the semi-finalists picks.
The rush to pass judgment and impose censure on September 10, surprised Winn due to the fact that she and her fellow Board members had been notified by Head, in an email dated September 5, that the “investigation” contained “troubling irregularities.”
“Let me be clear,” wrote Head, “at no time did Kathleen Winn or Linda Thor or any member of the search committee or local community ask anyone from Diversified Search to help prevent someone from being a candidate in the search. This was shared with Ms. Gittler but omitted from the report.”
A Pause For Cause
Winn and her attorney had expected the revelations by Head to at least afford Winn some measure of due process that she had been denied during the “star-chamber-like” investigation.
Because Head went so far as to allege that Thor’s conduct was, in some cases, no different than Winn’s during the course of the chancellor search, Winn had expected her fellow Board members to reassess the process and findings and call for an investigation of the investigation.
While Head’s letter could be deemed self-serving to some extent, some of his claims clearly warranted further review. In fact, Head’s disputes of many of the findings raise serious ethical questions about the Board’s action:
Gene Head: response to MCCCD investigation into Chancellor search process
Is my understanding that in March 2020, the search for the Chancellor of the Maricopa County Community College District was put on hold and attorney Amy Gittler was retained to investigate whether or not the process had been tainted in any way. I believe this to have been a wise decision in order to ensure a true and accurate search process. Upon review of the investigative report, I find troubling irregularities between the facts and what is being reported by Ms. Gittler in her report.
Let me be clear, at no time did Kathleen Winn or Linda Thor or any member of the search committee or local community ask anyone from Diversified Search to help prevent someone from being a candidate in the search. This was shared with Ms. Gittler but omitted from the report.
The report stated that Ms. Winn communicated with me on multiple occasions by phone, by text and by email without copying Linda Thor. This is true. Likewise, Linda communicated with me by phone, by email and by text on a number of occasions without copying or notifying Ms. Winn. None of the correspondence from either Ms. Winn or Dr. Thor attempted to share information about a candidate, a potential candidate, anyone working for MCCCD or anyone in the local community. This was shared with Ms. Gittler but omitted from the report.
Ms. Gittler and I first spoke in May 2020, two months after the search was placed on hold. She asked me about email and text conversations which I may had with Kathleen Winn and asked me to forward them to her. I did forward the emails to her. She also asked if I could forward to her the thread of texts between Ms. Wynn and myself. I shared with her that I was unable to do so as I delete texts once a month from people other than my family or friends. This was true for texts from both Ms. Winn as well as texts from Dr. Thor. I had no reason to keep texts from search committee members considering the primary mode of communication was always by phone or email. The report states that I shared with Ms. Gittler that it is industry practice to preserve all documents during a search process, and that is true. I offered to share any/all documents with her, either handwritten or printed, but she was not interested. She stated she was only interested in the texts from Ms. Winn. The vast majority of texts from either Ms. Winn or Dr. Thor consisted of “Can you call me this afternoon” or “I just emailed you 2-3 referrals.” The report suggests a coordinated effort on the part of Ms. Winn and myself to hide text communication related to this search. That is completely untrue, and I shared that with Ms. Gittler during our conversation. I would estimate that I had twice as many texts from Linda Thor as I had from Kathleen Winn. Again, none of which had anything to do with a candidate. Ms. Gittler asked me if I would be willing to send her my phone to see if the texts could be retrieved, and I said that I would not mail her my phone. I shared with her, I would however be willing to bring her my phone and have a technician, in my presence, examine the phone to determine if the text threads could be recovered. She said she would get back to me, but never did. At no time did Ms. Gittler ask about texts to/from Dr. Thor or any other member of the Search Committee or from any of the candidates. She only wanted to know about texts from Ms. Winn. I asked her about texts from Dr. Thor and others, and she said it was “not relevant to the investigation.” Again, she failed to mention this in her report.
The report also claims that I was “ambiguous” as to whether Dr. Thor and Ms. Winn were Chair and Co-Chair. Again, this is untrue as I shared with her, I understood Dr. Thor to be the Chair of the committee and as such, my correspondence with her by phone, by text and email was 3-4 times greater than my communication with Ms. Winn. Again, this was clearly shared with Ms. Gittler but misstated in her report.
The most egregious assertion of all is when Ms. Gittler states that on January 23, Ms. Winn “expressed how she could keep a specific candidate out of the search pool.” I shared with Ms. Gittler that following a candidate discussion with Dr. Thor, Ms. Winn and myself, as Ms. Winn and I were walking to the parking lot, Ms. Winn said, “I just wish there was some way we could keep “Candidate A” out of the candidate pool.” I responded, “she has a terminal degree and is professionally qualified to be in the pool, therefore she will be in the candidate pool.” She shrugged and walked away. I told Dr. Thor about this conversation within days and told her I viewed this as simply Ms. Winn’s personal opinion. Again, this was shared with Ms. Gittler and left out her report.
From November 2019 through today, Diversified Search has found all MCCCD Board members, faculty, staff, community leaders and students to be transparent and open. The Search Committee did their job well and narrowed the candidate pool down to a select group of strong candidates. The Search Committee reviewed complete candidate materials from all who wanted to offer their name for consideration. No candidates were held back from the Search Committee. Diversified Search and its associates have no knowledge of anything that may have happened behind the scenes. A straightforward process was provided and strictly held in place.
For her part, Winn issued her own condemnation of the Board’s rush to judgment, immediately prior to the censure vote. She accused her fellow Board members of unfairly targeting her with “petty accusations.” Winn also questioned the timing of the release of the report and claimed it was immediately used by Thor for a fundraising effort for her re-election campaign.
Winn and her attorney say they believe the whole episode was nothing more “than political theater.”
“It is the fraud and misrepresentation by Gittler and Thor that should concern the voters,” says Winn. “Thor knows what she did , but the voters should know this was a scam on the taxpayers of Maricopa County.”
In response to the Board’s request that she resign, Winn responded, “The answer is not no, but hell no. I respectfully decline your request to resign.”