- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi’s Community College Board voted unanimously to hire Andrea Mayfield as its next executive director.

The vote wraps up a tumultuous 10-month period during which the board was deadlocked over an attempt to hire another candidate, amid accusations of improper political interference.

Mayfield, 47, became president of Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in July 2014. But before that, almost her entire career had been spent at East Mississippi Community College, rising to vice president for academic instruction and then vice president of the Scooba campus.

“I am very pleased to be able to return home here to Mississippi and I certainly look forward to working with you and our legislators to do what is best for our system,” Mayfield told board members moments after they voted to hire her.

Mayfield will start work on Dec. 1, taking over from interim chief Deborah Gilbert. Mayfield will earn a salary of $278,000 a year.

The last permanent executive director, Eric Clark, retired in June after holding the post for seven years.

The executive director leads a staff that helps coordinate the activities of Mississippi’s 15 community colleges, which are independently governed. Among Mayfield’s most important jobs will be advocating for funding before lawmakers and working with other arms of state government to coordinate workforce training.

“The end goal is to go to work,” Mayfield said, whether a student is taking academic classes with plans to transfer to a university, plans to earn a two-year degree, or is taking technical training courses that don’t lead to a degree.

The Alabama Community College System accepted Mayfield’s resignation Thursday.

The Mississippi board met earlier this month in closed session to interview three candidates. It didn’t disclose the identities of the other two finalists. Former Mississippi State University President and University of Alabama System Chancellor Malcolm Portera led the search. However, Mayfield said she barely knew Portera before the search.

Gov. Phil Bryant was accused of improperly influencing the search, urging the board in a November letter to drop requirements for an academic doctorate or experience in educational administration and emphasize job training. Bryant had asked the board to consider Tray Hairston, a lawyer and Bryant policy adviser from 2012 to 2013, among candidates. Bryant has denied doing anything wrong.

The 10-member board was deadlocked 5-5 for months over whether it would hire Debra West as executive director. Half the board wanted to hire her, while the other half, at Bryant’s request, wanted to seek new candidates. West withdrew in April before taking a job in Arkansas in June, and the search was restarted.

Board Chairman Lee Bush, of Jackson, said he thought Mayfield’s efforts on workforce training in Alabama would line up with Bryant’s priorities.

“She has done some tremendous work at her current post,” Bush said. “We just want to take it to the next level, especially in workforce development. The governor is really pushing for workforce development and we’re 100 percent behind that.”

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy

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