In response to many inquiries concerning whether Mayor Evie McNiece of Rome, GA, was elected to the Board of Trustees of Shorter University in the fall of 2011, an account of the sequence of events follows. This conversation took place on Wednesday, May 23, 2012 in Mayor McNiece’s office, with John Howell and Betty Zane Morris, both alumni of Shorter, and was written up in detail by Mrs. Morris the following morning. Mayor McNiece was very friendly, open and willing to discuss the issues, and said her door is open for person-to-person conversations but that she will not answer the “anonymous” comments such as those that have appeared online.
Here is her story, as was told first to Rome’s City Manager, later relayed to me, and then relayed to John Howell and me in our meeting with her. The stories are exactly the same.
Mayor McNiece told us that Dr. Dowless called her last June or July (early in his term) and he and his wife took her out to lunch in a very convivial, friendly encounter. Before lunch was over, Dr. Dowless asked her if she would be interested in serving on the Shorter Board of Trustees. She did not say yes; she told him that she’d have to think about it. She didn’t hear anything more from him after that, and still had not heard from him as of May 23, when we met with her.
She went on to explain that when the Personal Lifestyle Statement came out in October, 2011, she said she knew she couldn’t sign it, and figured that they had decided they didn’t want her on the Board. She heard nothing else from Dr. Dowless or anyone else connected to the Board until 2 or 3 days before the March Board meeting of the Board of Trustees at the Marietta campus.
Dr. Dowless’ administrative assistant contacted her and asked her if she planned to attend the Board meeting. Mayor McNiece replied that she didn’t know she was on the Board. The assistant told her she was, and urged her to attend. She decided to go just to see what was happening.
When she arrived, someone told that she had been assigned to a committee, most of whom were Shorter staff members, and she met with them. She said they were very nice to her but that she felt lost, as she didn’t know what they were talking about since she’d been in no previous committee discussions. She said the people on the committee were friendly and welcoming to her but in the entire time she was at the meeting, they were the only ones who even spoke to her.
Neither the Board Chairman nor Dr. Dowless or any other member recognized or introduced her to the Board of Trustees. At lunch time, she picked up her box lunch and went to one of the rooms to eat. She spoke as she entered the room, but was not greeted in return by anyone. She said the people in that room were all Trustees with the exception of one woman she didn’t know.
On reflection, she said that she shouldn’t have gone to the general meeting after lunch, but she decided to go since she had driven that far. Again, no one spoke to or recognized her as a new member and that, to this day, the Chairman of the Board, Joe Frank Harris, Jr. has never contacted her.
She was extremely puzzled by the whole situation and sometime after the meeting, she wrote Dr. Dowless and “resigned” from the Board. She said it was very strange to resign from something she’d never been notified she was on. She couldn’t remember exactly when she wrote the letter because tax season was upon her (she owns an accounting firm), but knew that she had done it before the time her name “Mayor Evie McNiece” appeared on the Shorter Commencement Program on May 4, 2012.
She seemed convinced that they had just used her for her position as Mayor which, of course, the commencement program listing would imply. She felt that the listing would be used to suggest that she supported what Shorter was doing. She was very angry about it.
She knew little about how Trustees are chosen, so we explained the process, whereby the Nominating Committee of the Georgia Baptist Convention selects a slate of candidates, recommended by GBC churches, and those candidates are voted on at the annual convention. Any vacancies are selected by the GBC Executive Board. We explained that GBC has the final say on all trustee appointments.
At the time of our meeting, she was reluctant to make a public statement such as the one she had just given us, reiterating that her door was always open to anyone with questions. We left her, with cordial feelings all around, believing that we’d ascertained the truth about what had happened.
On July 11, 2012, the Rome News-Tribune carried a story about Mayor McNiece. In it, she was quoted as saying “Yes” to the question of whether she would be interested in being on the Board. Nelson Price was quoted as saying that it was just a “misunderstanding…that could easily be resolved”.
After the Rome News-Tribune story appeared, I talked with Mayor McNiece once again on July 11, 2012. Her story of what happened remained exactly the same. She continued, furthermore, that she still—one year later and after all that had transpired—had not been contacted by Dr. Dowless or Mr. Harris. Dr. Dowless had not spoken with her in more than a year—the year in which he asked her if she might be interested, the year she was supposedly elected and the year in which she resigned from a board she didn’t know she was on.
She continues to claim—and we believe her—that she said she would “think about it.” Dr. Price’s claim that it was a misunderstanding defies belief. How is an appointment to the Shorter Board of Trustees a “misunderstanding” when the supposed appointee is never notified of her appointment? The lack of notification appears to be negligence in follow-through if, indeed, she was ever elected. Had she been elected by the GBC in November, 2011, wouldn’t she have received some kind of notification of it prior to mid-March, 2012? If, indeed, it was a “misunderstanding between two people of admirable character that could easily be resolved”, as Dr. Price claimed, then we call on him to document an explanation for us.
We believe that this is an accurate picture of what happened, and hope that it answers the questions that have arisen. Again, Dr. Price, we call on you for your explanation of this “misunderstanding…that could easily be resolved.”
Betty Zane Morris, alumna and Professor of Communication (Ret.)
John Howell, alumnus