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Weeks after disagreement with CFCC President, trustee removed from board

CFCC Board member Jimmy Hopkins who was removed by NHC Julia Olson-Boseman
Longtime CFCC Board member Jimmy Hopkins was removed by New Hanover County Chairwoman Julia Olson-Boseman

For more than ten years Jimmy Hopkins has served on the Cape Fear Community College Board of Trustees, but on Monday his decade-long tenure came to an abrupt halt.

On September 26, Hopkins was formally removed from the board by the New Hanover County Commission Chair Julia Olson-Boseman. Since the county commissioners appointed Hopkins to his role, Olson-Boseman sent him a letter citing county policy on missing more than three meetings as the justification.

However, there are questions as to the legality of Hopkins’ removal since state law outlines the removal process of a board of trustees member — and it does not appear to give that authority to county commissioners.

Hopkins has his own questions about the removal, but the county and the college seem clear the decision is final.

On Thursday, New Hanover County posted a notice calling for applications for committees — one of which is for the CFCC board. And as of Thursday morning, Hopkins has been removed from the Board of Trustees webpage.

Hopkins was informed that he had “incurred more than three unexcused absences,” and that his removal would be effective immediately. Hopkins said when he planned on missing a meeting he always made sure he let the board know.

According to the letter signed by Commission Chair Julia Olson-Boseman to Hopkins, absences are deemed excused if they “are caused by events beyond one’s control and in your case, approved by the CFCC Board of Trustees.”

Moreover, in the letter, Olson-Boseman said he was sent a copy of the ‘Policy and Procedures’ for serving on county boards, which details the consequences of missing more than three meetings without prior board approval.

According to records sent by CFCC to the county, of the past 15 trustee meetings, Hopkins was present for only 40% of them; however, he had four consecutive absences starting in September 2020.

CFCC sent this information to New Hanover County on Jimmy's attendance. Rivenbark, Wilson, and Cherry are the county's other three appointees.
CFCC sent this information to New Hanover County on Jimmy's attendance. Rivenbark, Wilson, and Cherry are the county's other three appointees.

Olson-Boseman’s letter to Hopkins said that he has incurred more than three unexcused absences — but CFCC Vice President of Marketing and Community Relations Sonya Johnson said the college doesn’t track if an absence is excused or not.

“Attendance records are recorded as present or not present in the minutes,” she said.

Johnson added that the CFCC Board of Trustees has not removed previous board members and said they “didn’t remove Mr. Hopkins. The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners made that decision.”

She stated that the authority for a trustees’ service requirement lies with the “appointing bodies.”

Personally motivated?

On Tuesday, Hopkins responded to Olson-Boseman after his Monday removal. His email also went to county commissioners, CFCC president Jim Morton, CFCC board secretary Michelle Lee, county commission clerks Kym Crowell and Melissa Long, county manager Chris Coudriet, and county attorney Wanda Copley.

“I am a little confused over what prompted my removal at this time,” Hopkins said.

In his response, Hopkins alludes to this being a personal matter rather than an attendance issue.

“I find it odd that a few weeks ago, the president and I had a disagreement on how something was handled and now, 2 years after my 3 consecutive missed meetings (and with those like all missed meetings, I did contact Ms. Lee), I am being removed.

Please respond and let me know the reasoning behind this removal at this specific time,” said Hopkins.

Hopkins referred to CFCC’s Board of Trustees bylaws to signal how he was improperly removed. He cited, “A board of trustees may declare vacant the office of a member who does not attend three consecutive, scheduled meetings without justifiable excuse.”

Hopkins said in the email that he wanted Olson-Boseman to be clearer about why he was being removed.

“Please respond and let me know the reasoning behind this removal at this specific time. I do not intend to let my dedicated service to the students and faculty of CFCC be tarnished by an unjustified removal,” he said.

The question remains, why the move now?

Hopkins, in his own response to Olson-Boseman, said the same thing: “In looking at my attendance record you attached, I have not missed 3 consecutive meetings since 2020…so why do this now?”

Hopkins also notes the timing of his removal and a recent disagreement he had with President Jim Morton.

When asked, Hopkins would not specifically say what the disagreement was related to, but said it was a ‘facilities’ decision.

“All I know is on September 9, I received a call from the president of the college to tell me that something happened with facilities, a decision had been made. And I questioned why as chair of the facilities, someone who has been very involved in every aspect of facilities.[...] And his response was that they tried to keep it quiet. And I questioned that. He knew I was very upset about it,” said Hopkins.

Although he would not say what the disagreement was about, he did speak about the decision to purchase a property downtown to serve as CFCC’s new nursing building. Hopkins said he “doesn’t disagree with having a facility for the nurses,” but the way in which the deal was made bothered him.

“I didn't know until it was already done. Whatever the deal is, I don't know how the college or the county is involved, if an individual has a contract on the building. To this day, I don't know how that involves the college, or the county commissioners buying it for the college, I don't understand how any of it is going on. [...] That doesn’t seem very transparent,” said Hopkins.

State law

Questions as to the legality of Commissioner Olson-Boseman’s action to remove Hopkins from the board comes from the governing bylaws of the Board of Trustees which are codified in state law.

General Statute 115D explains how trustees are appointed by boards across the state and also how they can be removed.

While Hopkins has missed multiple meetings over the past several years, state law and CFCC’s own bylaws are clear — the missed meetings must be consecutive. Not only must they be consecutive, but the bylaws also do not delegate the power to remove a trustee to the county.

“A board of trustees may declare vacant the office of a member who does not attend three consecutive, scheduled meetings without justifiable excuse,” the bylaws read.

CFCC’s Board of Trustees might serve a local area but the creation of the board comes from the General Assembly, not New Hanover County.

“The Board of Trustees of Cape Fear Community College is a body corporate established by an act of the North Carolina General Assembly, Chapter 115A (Changed to 115D by the Legislature in 1979), General Statutes of North Carolina, and it possesses all of the powers of a body corporate for the purposes created by or that may exist under provisions of the law,” according to the bylaws.

Removal of an appointed board member is something that has come up over the years across the state and the University of North Carolina’s School of Government addresses the topic.

“When it comes to simply removing someone from the office (as opposed to eliminating the office itself), the general rule is that if a law provides that the person is appointed for a term, then the person may be removed only for cause (that is – some evidence of failure or inability to adequately perform the duties of the office), and must be given notice, and an opportunity to be heard,”Frayda Bluestein writes.

Hopkins said there was no process for him to contest his removal.

“Yes, I personally feel they've [my rights] been violated because I had no due process. I had no idea. In my 11 years [on the board], we've never discussed anyone's absence,” said Hopkins.

For Hopkins, aside from Olson-Boseman’s letter, it’s still unclear who ultimately made this decision. The college, through the board secretary Michelle Lee, would have needed to send notice of Hopkins’ absentee records to the county.

“Did the trustees have anything to do with it? Did the college administration have anything to do with it? I’m just very confused,” said Hopkins.

Aside from his abrupt dismissal Hopkins said he’s proud of his decade of service to CFCC.

“So I don't want anyone to ever think that it's sour grapes on my end. It's just a lack of transparency, again, and the removal of someone who has given the time, money, and efforts for so many years to then have this removal tarnish that in any way. It’s the one thing I'm not gonna let happen. That's more important to me than being back on the board,” said Hopkins.

As for the legality of his removal, there’s still no clear answer. WECT and WHQR reached out to a number of officials trying to get an answer — but so far — have gotten none.

An attorney for the NC Community Colleges System said she wasn’t able to answer the question.

“As a state government attorney, I am not able to provide legal analysis or advice to private citizens. Unfortunately, I cannot provide further assistance to you in this matter,” Attorney Tawanda Foster Artis said.

A New Hanover County spokesperson provided a statement affirming the county’s stance on the authority to remove trustees.

“State law governs the state board’s oversight of the community college board of trustees, but the Board of Commissioners has local authority over the county-appointed members of boards, commissions, committees and authorities. Based on the Board of Commissioners’ boards and committees policy (you can view that here), the Board of Commissioners can remove any county-appointed member,” Jessica Loeper said.

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