Sunday, September 16, 2012

NWACC - Questionable Methods on Fired CFO, Marty Parsons

Photo of Wrongfully Fired NWACC CFO, Marty Parsons (A Good Guy!)

Flogging a ‘dead horse’

Posted: September 15, 2012 at 2:54 a.m.

— Someone asked why I’m supposedly “beating a dead horse” over the firing of former CFO and top administrative executive Marty Parsons at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville.

It’s a fair question (one I also was asked after four years of writing about the late Janie Ward of Marshall). The issue matters because it involves questionable methods behind management at the state’s largest public community college.

Still, how much more can be said about my perceptions of how poorly the board of trustees treated Parsons by refusing to grant him an appeal, despite its own policy that allows for such a hearing?

Those who’ve followed the Parsons saga know how college President Becky Paneitz fired him on the spot in her office August 1. Ironically, Parsons had been promoted months earlier and even praised in a board meeting just weeks before he was summarily canned.

I’m flogging this mare again because a reader who served nearly three decades in top financial administrative posts identical to Parsons at two Illinois community colleges (one with much larger enrollment than NWACC’s) contacted me. John Murphy from Holiday Island said he was surprised to learn the policy at NWACC was to allow its president complete authority to fire an employee without the board of trustees’ involvement whatsoever. The process that Murphy followed in Illinois was that each school’s elected board was the ultimate arbiter of hirings and firings.

“If a president wanted someone dismissed, the process was to place that person on suspension until the board could weigh the facts and make a final decision whether to dismiss the employee,” particularly when the issue involved a top-level administrator, he said. In other words, for the sake of the institution and its credibility, something of such a serious nature just wasn’t done arbitrarily with his former employers. Under the latest NWACC policy, as I understand it, the college president is given full authority in matters of hiring and firing, even above that of the board which hired her, although the policy does provide for an appeal when a conflict of interest can be shown.

Murphy said he believes that sort of policy also “abrogates the tremendous responsibility of the board when it comes to hiring and firing.” Some label the board’s direct involvement with such employment matters as “micromanaging.” But to me, providing this kind of ultimate oversight-and the backstop of protection it provides everyone-is simply assuming the responsibility of one’s elected position.

A board’s active participation in any public school’s firing practices ensures that one employee’s decision to dismiss another on the spur of the moment must be proved to be justifiable and in the best overall interests of the school. Anything especially unfair or amiss with that reasoning? Why even have an elected board if not to lead and direct in an assertive manner, especially when issues concern the livelihoods and performances of those employed there? From his experience in top college financial positions, the largest percentage of the budgetary expenses at a community college are related to its employees, Murphy added.

I’m far from alone in my opinions on the lack of due process for Parsons. For instance, over at North Arkansas College in my hometown of Harrison, I’m assured the termination policy for someone in Parsons’ top administrative position allows for a hearing before the board, as long as it’s properly requested. On a somewhat related point, it’s also been implied publicly that Parsons’ personnel file might just supposedly perhaps contain material that shows Paneitz had counseled him on previous occasions about what she perceived to be problems with his job performance.

I asked Parsons what his personnel file contains in the HR department that he had acknowledged and signed. He said any purported previous criticism of his performance found in his personnel file was news to him. Then he elaborated: “When Paneitz [and attorneys for Parsons and the school] met on July 25, some items on Paneitz’s memo to my file were discussed, but not all,” he said. “There was no discussion of a performance-improvement plan, or being given 30 days to improve, or a possibility of termination discussion whatsoever. No documents changed hands.

“The first time I actually saw [Paneitz’s] memo to my file was the following week when she handed it to me on August 1. Then she immediately asked for my resignation [which he declined]. There was no discussion of any items listed on her memo. The only thing she said to me was ‘this bad press has to stop. I want your resignation.’ ”

Parsons was formally fired in a letter he received two days later. He said he understood Paneitz’s memo to file was provided to the school’s Human Resources Department sometime after August 1 to be placed in his personnel file. There were no other performance issue-related documents-other than a year-old positive evaluation in his file. “That’s the facts.” he said.

Time to lead this ol’ mare back into the stall, and for the PR staff listed on NWACC’s website to go back to work. November is right around the corner.
Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at
Editorial, Pages 17 on 09/15/2012


Keep on beating it Mike. The fact that there was not allowed any due process on this matter is absurd. Panieitz and her lapdog Board need to remember that they answer to us, the taxpayer, ultimately. By doing what they did and not letting Parsons speak his piece, they basically gave the Queen of England her sceptre to rule over the college however she sees fit with no worry of any silly things like facts and accountability. I also did some digging myself a little, and this might be normal in these political musings of higher ed., but I found out that she actually sends administration out to collect signatures for new possible board members? Normal, legal, or not...stacking the board to better suit her desires??? Who knows. She needs to be held accountable to someone other than herself. Because it all points to herself and its morale compass being all kinds of out of whack.
Posted by: unimpressed
September 15, 2012 at 9:59 a.m.

Although clear conflict of interest was proven by the college president's fear of media and taxpayer scrutiny over whistleblower-esque financial disclosures and intense loathing for a man who sought to better the college, not simply provide her with endless discretionary funds (not to mention ask any board member in their full 'community leadership' role if they did or did not receive an email from a former NWACC CFO who entirely corroborated Mr. Parsons' story of bullying and forced resignation), the appeal was dismissed based on the board being a strictly policy governance board. Do only slight research and find that one line item in the memorandum handed to Mr. Parsons at his termination - which stated Mr. Parsons was told by the president to not contact the state attorney general - that was actually a written demand of a board of trustees member, not the president. That sounds about as close to day-to-day operations as one can get. So it becomes fairly clear why those closest to the president fought viciously against the rest of the board hearing an appeal.

The president of the college has surrounded herself with board members that have either behaved unethically and cannot be found out, staff with history of questionable dismissal from employment, staff that have behaved abhorrently while on taxpayer missions AND that she has assisted in rescuing in the name of NWACC. These people have no viable options but to defend her motives while keeping their heads half-down, trampling the best and brightest to save themselves.

When the leading PR relations person writes a defense of this situation, submitting a clear and known lie to a newspaper - yes another CFO was bullied out of his job, one with decades of quality and valued state service, and everyone knows this - what does it say about an institutions leadership? THIS is why these leaders behave the way they do. They can lie in print, in terminations, wearing an NWACC badge and this community stands for it. Donors, public, leaders - pay attention.
Posted by: becauseicare
September 15, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.

Who's driving the financial ship right now? Enrollment numbers are down so budgets will more than likely be affected. Folks I'd keep a watchful eye on unspoken for funds otherwise with current leadership we'll end up with new presidential drapes and zero for the students. The side endeavors I hear about in the community (Becky's Book Club, money raised for student scholarships) how does that line out? Student fees were just raised recently. Are they being appropriately dispersed? I'm worried about the financial future of our college. Sounds like the one sure 'thing' that could have supported this college during down enrolment was fired by a petulant leader. How is the college in this dire of straits? Did the budget office not see this coming down the pike long before Parsons stepped foot in Arkansas?
Posted by: jddendinger
September 15, 2012 at 10:34 a.m.

Just like to add that I appreciate the fact that folks, hopefully lots and lots of them, are reading about this and taking time to offer their own thoughts and comments on the situation. It does affect a lot of people in many ways. A Board of Trustees is entrusted with proving honorable, effective and caring leadership for such a public institution. Otherwise, why even have a board? Just thinking out loud again today.
Posted by: Rueb10
September 15, 2012 at 10:56 a.m.

The Board has chosen that good judgement will not prevail. The Board has determined that protecting one individual has more importance than their fiduciary responsibility to the college and students. Contact the State Legislature to request a formal inquiry into fiscal and personnel mismanagement at NorthWest Arkansas Community College during this president's tenure as well as questionable practices of the NWACC Board of Trustees under its current leadership.
State Legislature:
State House and Senate for Benton and Washington County:
Posted by: Legal919
September 15, 2012 at 1:52 p.m.

State House and Senate for Benton and Washington County:
Posted by: Legal919
September 15, 2012 at 2:48 p.m.

15 Signs Your Workplace Is Dysfunctional - Albert J. Bernstein, PhD
Sign No. 1: Conspicuously posted vision or value statements are filled with vague but important-sounding words like "excellence" and "quality."
Sign No. 2: Bringing up a problem is considered as evidence of a personality defect rather than as an observation of  reality.
Sign No. 3: If by chance there are problems, the usual solution is a motivational seminar.
Sign No. 4: Double messages are delivered with a straight face.
Sign No. 5: History is regularly edited to make executive decisions more correct, and correct decisions more executive than they actually were.
Sign No. 6: People are discouraged from putting things in writing.
Sign No. 7: Directions are ambiguous and often vaguely  threatening.
Sign No. 8: Internal competition is encouraged and rewarded.
Sign No. 9: Decisions are made at the highest level  possible.
Sign No. 10: Delegating means telling somebody to do something, not giving them the power to do it.
Sign No. 11: Management approaches from the latest best-seller are regularly misunderstood to mean what we're doing already is right on the  mark.
Sign No. 12: Resources are tightly controlled.
Sign No. 13: You are expected to feel lucky to have a job and know you could lose it if you don't toe the line.
Sign No. 14: Rules are enforced based on who you are rather than what you  do.
Sign No. 15: The company fails the Dilbert Test.
Sound familiar anyone?
Posted by: SoJami
September 15, 2012 at 5:36 p.m.

Do I understand you correctly that, the NWACC Board of Trustees had knowledge of another CFO who was forced out by Paneitz, and a PR person from the college had that knowledge and supplied false information to the press? It sure appears that pieces of the real story keep surfacing which further implicate NWACC leadership and the Trustees. This whole thing reeks of make it up as you go, revisionist history, and cover up.

Then there is the unnamed editorial author of "Board Right in Denying Appeal Plea" who proclaimed that litigation is the correct resolution to this huge cluster... Blink, blink, just where do you think the money will come from to fund lawyers for the college? Oh yeah, that's right from funds earmarked for other purposes. What a ridiculous, naive, irresponsible statement.
Posted by: ARTrails
September 16, 2012 at 1:51 p.m.


  1. Somebody do something about these corrupt idiots! Why isn't anything being done about this school? It's a terrible place to work and a terrible place to get an education.

  2. All I have to say is - KEEP YOUR KIDS AWAY FROM NWACC!!

  3. ...And spread the word to everyone you know. Also, turn them on to this blog. It's awesome. Don't know why somebody didn't start one a long time ago. Brilliant idea, BullyWatchdog!

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.