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- 2012 - October - 10th -

Wallace out as FSCJ president at year-end

by David Chapman, Staff Writer

Steve Wallace will resign as Florida State College at Jacksonville president effective Jan. 1 but continue in a consulting role with the college until June 2014.

The college’s board of trustees voted Tuesday to accept his offer to resign. His total compensation will be more than $1.2 million.

Wallace has overseen the college’s growth, both physically and in its educational programs, throughout his 15-year career but has come under scrutiny both locally and at the state level in recent months.

During the special meeting Tuesday, board members mentioned the millions of dollars in wrongly dispersed Pell Grants and audits.

Wallace proposed his amended employment contract to the board during the meeting, which lasted more than two hours.

Wallace, who became president in July 1997, proposed to resign effective Jan. 1. For the duration of his original contract, which expires June 30, 2014, he would work for the college independently, from home.

Additionally, and as later amended, he also will not receive expenses and will no longer receive a college-provided automobile.

Of the more than $1.2 million package, $164,121 would be his salary from Jan. 1 through June 30 of next year, $313,000 would be his salary from July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014, and the rest would be accrued vacation and sick time over his tenure.

While presenting the amended contract, Wallace said he had helped take the college to a “significantly higher level” and the contract was fair. He also said he wanted to finish his contract instead of taking a buyout or other exit terms.

“I want to work,” he told the board. “I’ve got a lot of gas left in the tank.”

Options for Wallace’s departure included voluntary, termination with cause, termination without cause and termination without cause plus severance, each having its own payout depending on whether accrued times counted.

Wallace determined his own departure terms.

The board approved the Wallace-amended contract 8-1, with board member Doug Burnett dissenting.

During discussion, board members praised Wallace for his accomplishments, although some criticized him.

Board member Suanne Thamm said that Wallace had a valid four-year contract and in June received an outstanding performance evaluation. She said any criticism for his compensation levels should be addressed to the board that approved the measures, she said. Not approving the contract and a potential lawsuit that might follow would “tear apart the reputation of this college,” she said.

Board member Jim McCollum said he was chair when the performance evaluation was given and he told Wallace privately several weeks ago he didn’t think the longtime president was the right person for the college’s future.

McCollum said those comments “probably started the ball rolling” on the events that led to Tuesday.

He said he regretted the “snowball” effect the comments had, but not the words he spoke. He said he would support the contract to put the issue to rest and “move on.”

Burnett was the most outspoken critic and spoke of leadership “steps missed” and said action should be in the best interests of taxpayers.

Board member Karen Bowling said she thought “all of us want to be fair” to Wallace, but she added the amendments, including one that struck his expenses.

Wallace said he preferred that the next president not be put into place before Jan. 1 because he wanted to conclude open initiatives and have an unencumbered opportunity to finish as much as possible.

After the meeting, board Chair Gwen Yates said a search for Wallace’s permanent successor is “going to take some time” and there would be an interim. She said she did not know if the interim would be from within FSCJ or outside.

She said Tuesday’s actions were difficult, but the conclusion was a win for the college and Wallace, given the circumstances.

Among Wallace’s community roles, he has served as chairman of the JAX Chamber and is the 2012-13 president of the Rotary Club of Jacksonville.

Community leaders offered some observations after the decision to accept his resignation.

“At some point, the institution becomes more important than the person, even if the person is right,” said University of North Florida President John Delaney, who served as Jacksonville mayor from 1995-2003. Wallace joined FSCJ as its fourth president on July 28, 1997.

“At some point people will be able to reflect on the tremendous work that Steve did for economic development for the region, and that his vision really changed a sleepy community college,” Delaney said in a statement.

“The board did a terrific job of due diligence. The temptation is to be kneejerk, or to plant one’s feet in concrete. This group was very deliberative, and I appreciate that as a citizen,” Delaney said.

Don Shea, executive director of the Jacksonville Civic Council of business and community leaders, said the group had no official statement or position. Wallace is a member of the council.

Mayor Alvin Brown’s office also provided a statement on the situation.

“We respect President Wallace’s service in our community, and we support the college’s Board of Trustees as it moves ahead to continue the college’s important role in Jacksonville to provide educational opportunities.”

Rotary Club of Jacksonville President-elect Bill Mason said this morning that the club would not meet until Monday, so no discussion has taken place.

“That hasn’t come up in any official capacity at Rotary at this point. We will just wait and see how Steve feels,” Mason said. Wallace’s one-year term began in July.

Mason said the nominating committee has been scheduled to meet Monday to choose a candidate for the next president-elect, who would serve in that capacity when Mason becomes president.

He said the club will vote on that nomination.

Meanwhile, Wallace is scheduled to be the honoree Nov. 16 for the fourth annual sheriff’s roast to benefit the Police Athletic League of Jacksonville.

Asked about Wallace’s decision and how it might affect the roast, Lt. Matt Nemeth, executive director of the league, said Tuesday in an email that “we’re addressing that this week and will have some resolution soon.”

This morning, the JAX Chamber issued a news release about Wallace.

“The JAX Chamber supports FSCJ during this period of transition and expresses appreciation to Dr. Wallace for his longtime leadership in economic development and workforce development,” said the release.

It said FSCJ is a “leading contributor to Northeast Florida’s economic health” and the quality of the region’s workforce is one of its primary strengths in recruiting new businesses.

“We look forward to working with Dr. Wallace and FSCJ’s leadership team during the transition and in the future,” said JAX Chamber Chair Tom Van Berkel, who is chairman and CEO of The Main Street America Group.

The news release said Wallace created programs responsive to the needs of business during his 15 years with the college.

It said FSCJ works closely with the business community and other institutions of higher education in building programs to serve students and industry.

“High-quality workforce preparation for aviation, technology, hospitality, nursing and the education sectors are the result. Thousands of citizens throughout the JAX region routinely

benefit from these efforts,” it said.

“FSCJ significantly contributes to job creation in our region,” said JAX Chamber President Wally Lee.

“We look forward to a continued strong partnership and working closely with the new college president and the Board of Trustees on economic development initiatives in the future,” he said in the release.

It also said FSCJ’s training programs with the U.S. Navy “resulted in a solid relationship with the region’s largest employer, the nation’s military.”

dchapman@baileypub.com

356-2466

Managing editor Karen Mathis contributed to this report.

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