Citing improprieties, Malloy removes community college board chair

Calling recent actions by the leader of the community college board of trustees “improper” and “deeply troubling,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Thursday removed Louise S. Berry as head of the board and named an outsider to replace her for the rest of this year.

“Your leadership has recently taken several actions that run counter to the public interest,” Malloy wrote. “I have lost confidence in your leadership.”

Malloy’s letter cited two incidents in the last few months. The first involved the retirement and temporary rehiring of system Chancellor Marc Herzog.

On May 23, the trustees approved a resolution giving Berry the authority to temporarily hire college presidents or executive staff without board approval. Herzog retired effective May 31, apparently without notifying the full board, and then was rehired by Berry in a temporary capacity for the month of June.

In his letter, Malloy noted that a similar action by the Board of Trustees for the Connecticut State University System ceding authority over some personnel matters to its chairman resulted in a well-publicized opinion from the attorney general’s office that the action was illegal, and subsequent legislation barring the practice.

“These facts suggest to me that you unilaterally appointed Mr. Herzog as Chancellor knowing that it was improper for the Board of Trustees to delegate this power to you,” he wrote. Malloy said he believes she acted to “circumvent” the new higher education reorganization plan that restricts her from having the authority to make decisions by herself, including naming a chancellor for a position that was set to be eliminated, without the new Board of Regent’s approval.

This new BOR merges the community colleges, Connecticut State University System, the online Charter Oak College and the Department of Higher Education into one system. The reorganization was Malloy’s idea to end high administrative costs and to make it easier for students to transfer among the institutions.

The other incident was Berry’s allegedly calling a July 27 special meeting to discuss layoff notices the board would be issuing without giving public notice of the meeting.

“I am extremely disappointed that you would allow the public to be effectively excluded from such an important meeting,” Malloy wrote.

Mary Anne Cox, vice chancellor for the dozen community colleges, said she believes public notice was given to the Secretary of the State’s Office and if it wasn’t “it certainly would not have been intentional.”

A spokeswoman for the SOTS’ office said they had no notice on file. No complaints had been filed with the Freedom of Information Commission for not announcing the meeting.

Berry has been a volunteer on the community college board for 20 years and has been chairwoman for the last six years. Because of that long service, Malloy said, he had decided not to remove her from the board entirely.

Berry was not immediately available for comment.

Malloy named Naomi Cohen, a former state Democratic Representative from Bloomfield, to take over until the end of the year when the Board of Regents will take over running the colleges. So far six members have been named to that 15-member board.