An attorney for S.C. State president Thomas Elzey asked a judge Thursday to wait until lawmakers replace that school’s trustees before allowing the fate of the school’s suspended leader to be decided.
The state House and Senate have passed separate bills that would replace all of the trustees at the financially struggling school with a temporary board.
“The situation actually reminds me of a singer who you may be familiar with; he liked to be called the Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” attorney Nancy Bloodgood told Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson during a hearing Thursday. “In this case, I think that we could say that this is the board formerly known as duly appointed.”
The current board, which suspended Elzey, remains in the charge of the state’s only historically black public four-year college. However, Dickson last week issued an order temporarily stopping those trustees from firing Elzey.
Before Dickson Thursday in Orangeburg, Ken Childs, an attorney for the S.C. State board, argued Elzey’s four-year contract, signed in 2013, allows trustees to fire the president without cause.
Elzey stands to receive more than $400,000 if he is fired without cause, according to contract terms.
But Bloodgood told Dickson the board has not come close to offering that amount in negotiations that began after trustees placed Elzey on paid leave last month. The failed talks led Elzey to file a lawsuit claiming trustees breached his contract and asking the court to bar S.C. State from firing him.
Board members have not said specifically why they suspended Elzey, who is paid $326,000 in annual compensation.
Trustees have given Elzey a no-confidence vote, less than a year after voting to give him a $50,000 performance bonus.
Childs has said the board is weighing its options including firing Elzey for cause, which would allow the school to remove Elzey without having to pay off his contract.
Bloodgood told Dickson that Elzey’s professional reputation is under attack.
“If he is ousted for cause as this board has said they intend to do … his career is dead-ended,” Bloodgood said. “He will never be able again to be president of a university.”
Childs and S.C. State board chairman William Small declined comment after the hearing.
Dickson said he would have a decision soon on whether to lift or leave in place his order barring Elzey’s firing.
S.C. State has a $17 million deficit, mostly in unpaid bills to food-service and maintenance vendors. The school’s losses have piled up as its enrollment has shrunk by 40 percent to under 3,000 students during the past eight years. Accreditors also have placed S.C. State on probation for its financial and governance problems.
S.C. State hired Elzey from The Citadel to fix the Orangeburg school’s financial woes. But critics say he moved too slowly in trying to stem the school’s deficits.
Elzey, who declined comment Thursday, has said the S.C. State board did not want to follow his plan for more severe cost-saving measures.