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Monday, April 23, 2007

Southern Board Chair and VP step down amid sexual scandal

The chair and vice chair of the Southern University Board of Supervisors stepped down from office temporarily.

Chairman Johnny Anderson, is also the governor’s assistant chief of staff, said he is doing so to remove the appearance of “improprieties” while the board considers the results of a report into sexual harassment allegations against Anderson.

“I feel strongly I don’t want to be accused of any improprieties,” Anderson said after the Saturday board meeting.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve been vindicated,” he said.

The board oversees Southern’s three campuses and a law school.

Anderson announced his decision shortly after a “break” when he was with most board members behind closed doors.

Vice Chairman Myron Lawson of Alexandria, who was not at the Saturday meeting, also stepped down temporarily. He said in a phone interview that he wants to avoid the appearance he is influencing other board members.

Lawson works closely with Anderson as vice chairman.

The change in leadership likely will last between one and three months, Lawson said. He and Anderson said the move is not permanent but is effective immediately.

Dale Atkins of New Orleans is the temporary chairwoman and John Joseph of Opelousas is now vice chairman.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco, in Novermber, ordered Baton Rouge lawyer Mark Falcon to investigate allegations leveled by multiple unnamed Southern employees.

On April 13, Falcon reported no findings of guilt or innocence, but ended the inquiry saying he had been “thwarted” by Southern University System President Ralph Slaughter and the board.

Atkins called for a special board meeting Saturday to continue the discussion about the report that started Friday.

Atkins declined comment about what actions the board could take Saturday.

Slaughter declined comment when asked if his job status could be affected, adding that he will wait until the board meets again.

Anderson argued the report recognizes the falsity of the allegations against him.

When asked about Slaughter’s future, Anderson referenced the board’s four hours of closed executive sessions to deliberate.

“They (board members) met with the president; they did not meet with me,” Anderson said.

Falcon’s report targets Slaughter’s actions.

“His (Slaughter’s) refusal to answer my questions cannot be justified,” Falcon said in the report. “More importantly, his defiance of the directives of Southern University’s Board of Supervisors is unconscionable.”

The board failed to address Slaughter’s “apparent insubordination,” the report states.

Slaughter has said he turned over all his documentation to a federal grand jury investigating the matter and he admitted withholding some information because he wanted to protect the privacy of the alleged harassment victims.

The board met in closed session for more than four hours total Friday and Saturday to discuss Falcon’s report without Anderson present.

After the Southern personnel committee finished its closed executive session Saturday morning, Atkins called for a “break” before the full board meeting began.

At that time, board members left together and joined Anderson behind closed doors. With a majority of board members together in private, they represented a quorum — an apparent violation of state open meetings law.

A reporter with The Advocate pointed out the quorum and requested an open meeting. Board attorney Winston DeCuir alerted the board there could not be a majority of the board together behind closed doors.

Several board members then left. They returned to the meeting later and other board members left.

Then another group of members joined the meeting while others left. The number of members involved in the meeting at any one time always was less than the majority regulated in the open meetings law.

Shortly after the more-than-30-minute “break” and the full board meeting began, Anderson announced he would step down as chairman.


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