- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

RIDGELAND, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi’s Community College Board is interviewing four candidates for executive director and could choose a new director someone this month.

The board conducted interviews in a closed session Wednesday at the Ridgeland campus of Holmes Community College.

The names of the candidates were not listed on an agenda published by the board, which coordinates the state’s 15 independently governed community and junior colleges. Plans had previously called for the top five candidates to be recommended to the board for interviews.

Deborah Gilbert, who has been the interim executive director since July 1, said the board plans to name a permanent leader by Sept. 21.

Former Mississippi State University president and former chancellor of the University of Alabama system Malcolm Portera was hired to lead the search.

The 10-member board was deadlocked for months over whether it would hire Debra West as its executive director or restart the search. That standoff ended only when West withdrew from consideration in April.

Gov. Phil Bryant urged the board to drop requirements for an academic doctorate or experience in educational administration and emphasize job training. That move drew concern from the regional accrediting agency for colleges and universities, but Bryant denied doing anything improper. Martin has said Bryant asked that the board include Tray Hairston, a lawyer who was a policy adviser to Bryant in 2012 and 2013, among candidates it considered.

In December, a group sought to hire West but was defeated on a 5-5 vote. A group that voted against West, including Martin, sought to reopen the search after reviewing the qualifications. That effort failed on the same 5-5 deadlock, with West’s supporters opposing it.

Eric Clark retired after holding the post for seven years.

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