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Part I: CFCC could be violating regulations on using state money for contract buyouts

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Cape Fear Community College could be violating the State Board of Community Colleges code on contract buy outs of their former employees.

Note: This is the first part of a series of investigative reports on Cape Fear Community College. Stay tuned for additional installments throughout the
week, and a special edition of The Newsroom on Friday. Find Part II here and Part III here.

According to records provided by the state, and interviews with former CFCC staff, it appears the college is improperly using state money to pay employees through the end of their contracts - even though they had been let go and removed from campus weeks earlier. This is effectively a contract buyout, which colleges aren’t allowed to fund with state money.

The state’s regulation on contract buyout states that the Board of Trustees “shall not use state funds to buy out contracts, unless required by a court of competent jurisdiction. The parties entering into a contract are responsible for implementing the contract. Therefore, should it become necessary to terminate employment prior to the expiration of the contract and if it is necessary to buy out the contract, such payment shall not be paid from state funds.”

Contract buyouts

In May 2022, Cape Fear Community College decided not to renew the contracts of their full-time equivalence (FTE) Compliance Director Nina Taylor and FTE Compliance Technician Bonnie McGlauflin.

Both McGlauflin and Taylor have confirmed to WHQR that their contracts ran until June 30, but their last day of work was on May 31, 2022. This June 30 date was also noted in the Board of Trustees personnel report for July. Both employees did not work for the entire month of June, even though the state paid them to do so.

“HR walked me out of the building like I was a criminal. No warning, just ‘Your job has been eliminated’ after dedicating almost 20 years of my life to the institution. To be told that I could apply for a new job that was essentially what I was already doing was insulting. I've never felt so disrespected in my life,” McGlauflin said in an interview with WHQR.

Former Enrollment and Documentation Director Tina Ward’s contract was also not renewed in May. McGlauflin said Ward didn’t work in June.

Even McGlauflin’s non-renewal letter from CFCC said she would “receive payment for any wages that you are due for the final month of employment.”

McGlauflin confirmed that she was not asked to use her remaining leave time to cover the work days in June.

There is a stipulation in the state code that employees with unsatisfactory job performances can be let go and paid up to two weeks using state funds. However, McGlauflin said she did not receive any documentation indicating that was the case with her.

Confirming state money was used

CFCC has twice tried to block WHQR from viewing the records that would prove McGlauflin, Taylor, and Ward were paid using state funds for the month of June. Specifically, WHQR sought expenditure reports with budget codes that show which funding streams are being used for employee compensation.

CFCC Vice President of Marketing and Community Relations Sonya Johnson said the college’s law firm, Ward & Smith, advised the college that they didn’t have to provide the information. Asked to cite the statute allowing the college to withhold this record, a requirement of public records law, CFCC said the source or the budget code of the employees’ monthly salaries are considered part of their confidential personnel file – and are “not subject to inspection.”

The state community college system did not interpret the records the same way.

The state noted that these were CFCC records, the same documents CFCC had twice refused to turn over to WHQR. Because CFCC is required to file this information with the state, then it also became a state-level record, which the state handed over pursuant to a records request.

Amanda Martin, who is the supervising attorney at the First Amendment Clinic at Duke Law School said that budget information is a “quintessential public record.”

According to Martin, the core information of personnel laws deal with things like performance, evaluation, transfer, suspension, and promotion. Budget coding of an employee’s salary is “simply information of a different character (i.e. not personnel).”

The documents provided by the state confirmed that McGlauflin, Taylor, and Ward were in fact paid out using state funds for both May and June.

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NCCCS sent this spreadsheet to WHQR.

Jason Chaffin’s ‘resignation’

The document also shows former CFCC Vice President of Academic Affairs Jason Chaffin being paid through the end of June using state funds, despite the fact that Chaffin signed a severance agreement with the college on May 31.

CFCC reported to WHQR that Chaffin had “resigned” in May, but in the agreement, obtained by WHQR, he was actually told by the college that his “employment would not be renewed for the upcoming school year.”

The May severance agreement between CFCC and Chaffin said he could remain employed until August 31, by which time he would “voluntarily resign,” but, according to the document, Chaffin asked CFCC to “reconsider its decision to non-renew him.”

Chaffin’s agreement also contains a non-disparagement clause.

It states, “the employee shall not downgrade, speak adversely about, or comment derogatorily about or in any other way make any adverse or negative indications, actions, or comments about employer, associates, agents, or attorneys of said entities.”

Also part of the clause, the college must avoid engaging in the same behaviors against Chaffin.

If Chaffin breaks the stipulations in the severance agreement, then the college doesn’t have to compensate him beyond July 1, which could then allow CFCC to bring a lawsuit against him if there’s a breach of the agreement.

Martin of Duke Law said these agreements are “absolutely routine in the private sector,” but she said she couldn’t speak to how common they are in the public sector.

“But I don’t like it, because I think the idea of requiring a public employee to censor himself or herself is bad public policy, and could lead to more trouble and administrative problems, and reduces the opportunity of the public to get a real understanding of the internal workings of public agencies and public operations,” said Martin.

Chaffin, who started working at the college in 2002, used to be the third-highest paid CFCC employee at $138,636, only behind the Vice President of Business Services Christina Greene ($138,660) and President Jim Morton ($322,584).

WHQR has reached out to the North Carolina Community College System Office on this issue but has yet to hear back. WHQR also reached out to the college to comment on this story. CFCC didn’t respond.

Editor's Note: Laura Rosen, Information & Communications Specialist for the Office of the State Auditor, sent to WHQR on September 13 the following statement, "We are in receipt of your email; however, we have no comment." HQR didn't have this statement when the story was first published, as the message went directly to spam.

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR