A-B Tech begins search for new president

Leah Wong Ashburn sworn in as A-B Tech trustee
CHANGE A-BREWING: Leah Wong Ashburn, president and CEO of Highland Brewing, is sworn in as the newest member of the A-B Tech board of trustees on June 10 by Judge Alan Thornburg. Photo courtesy of A-B Tech

The spring semester may be over for A-B Tech students, but the community college’s board of trustees just gave itself a major homework assignment. On June 10, the trustees unanimously approved a plan to find a replacement for President Dennis King, who announced last month that he’ll be retiring in January.

According to the proposal, submitted by board Chair Mary Ann Rice, the entire board of trustees will function as a search committee, interview finalists and select the new president. A smaller search advisory committee, the membership of which has yet to be determined, will work to shape the job description, gather community input and direct the specifics of the process.

By state statute, explained college attorney Chris Campbell, community members can help advise the board of trustees through serving on the search committee or weighing in at stakeholder events, but they cannot be part of the final selection. He said the college would hold both live forums and online surveys to collect desired “qualities and characteristics” for the new president.

“I think that was probably the biggest glitch that we had last time,” added trustee Joe Brumit. “People who were on the search committee last time … they were disappointed, when it came down to decision time, that they weren’t part of the process.”

The board will also decide whether to hire a search consultant, which it did not do when seeking the replacement for former President Hank Dunn in 2014. While other recent high-profile hires in the area have involved search firms — the city of Asheville, for example, is spending $35,000 to find a replacement for former Asheville Police Department Chief Tammy Hooper — Campbell advised against the practice.

“We don’t recommend you use a search consultant to narrow down the applicants — you can do that better than anybody else on the planet,” Campbell said. He also noted that word of openings spreads easily in the world of higher-education leadership thanks to online distribution and the limited number of relevant posting sites.

A state-mandated salary schedule establishes the base annual pay for King’s successor at $161,892, which trustees may supplement with local funds as desired. The new hire would start no later than July 1, 2020, but no earlier than February of that year; the board’s plan calls for the position to be posted by Saturday, June 15.

The trustees, concluded Campbell, shouldn’t dawdle in their recruitment. “The good presidents have a job by March or April,” he said. “So you need to pick one quick and try to lock them down as soon as you can.”


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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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4 thoughts on “A-B Tech begins search for new president

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    Seems like ABTech can do quite well without a ‘president’….save that money and let the board and the staff run it…

  2. Steve

    Irony here? The retiring Dr. King creates an new position, associate director of Human Resources. Bestows it on his loyal special assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion of several years. Where’s the evidence that either position was advertised and filled according to fair hiring practices?

  3. Sandy

    ABtech’s enrollment has dropped. What positions and programs are on the chopping block?

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