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Top KCTCS Attorney Gets 'Special Assistant' Job After Internal Inquiry

The Kentucky Community and Technical College System's offices.
James McNair/KyCIR
The Kentucky Community and Technical College System's offices.

The Kentucky community college system reassigned its top attorney earlier this month to a newly created “special assistant” position soon after wrapping up a monthslong investigation of his office behavior.

J. Campbell Cantrill III will serve as “special assistant to the president for policy review and revision” until he retires next summer, according to a settlement reached with the Kentucky Community & Technical College System on June 1. He will continue to draw the $137,314 annual salary he received as general counsel.

Cantrill, who served as KCTCS’ legal chief since 2008, had been placed on administrative leave with pay and barred from the system’s headquarters in Versailles and its email system on Feb. 26. In a letter sent to him that day by KCTCS President Jay Box, Cantrill was told he was being investigated for possible violations of system policies, including those that cover harassment, ethical values and use of information technology.

The letter cited “multiple reports” of violations by Cantrill but did not provide any details. KCTCS hired an outside attorney, Keith Moorman of Frost Brown Todd in Lexington, to investigate the matter.

In a letter dated May 23, Moorman expressed the belief that Cantrill had not created a “sexually hostile workplace.”

Nine days later, KCTCS reached the settlement with Cantrill and gave him a new contract making him a special assistant until Aug. 31, 2017, when his employment will end. KCTCS is now in the market for a new general counsel.

Under the new arrangement, Cantrill will be given an office and secretarial help at KCTCS, but he will have no other supervisory authority. Meantime, his contract allows him to practice law on the side.

Cantrill’s reassignment is the latest instance of six-figure compensation packages going to departing KCTCS executives during a time of shrinking enrollment and budgets.

Last month, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting revealed the payment of $815,741 last year to departed KCTCS President Michael McCall, including $352,066 for 261 unused vacation days and $300,965 for consulting. KCTCS had just eliminated 506 jobs systemwide and, in the course of that, laid off 170 professors and staff workers.

The 16-college system raised tuition for the 2016-17 school year by 6.1 percent. As of last fall, 80,075 students were enrolled in KCTCS, its lowest level since 2002.

Because of a confidentiality clause in the settlement, neither Cantrill’s attorney, David Trimble, nor Box would take questions about the former legal officer. KCTCS Board of Regents Chairwoman Marcia Roth and 11 other board members either would not comment or could not be reached.

Some faculty members, though, questioned the timing of the deal and need to pay someone $137,000 to revise policies.

“Having someone there at that kind of salary, given the financial problems and constraints we’re having, seems to be unnecessary,” said Roy Silver, a sociology professor at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College, which has three Eastern Kentucky campuses. “For that salary, we could have likely kept three lower-level staff people employed for another year.”

Mike Strickland, president of the Kentucky Faculty & Staff Alliance, an AFL-CIO union that represents KCTCS professors and staff employees, called the arrangement “interesting” in light of layoffs.

“The system doesn’t seem to be bearing the same pain as the colleges,” said Strickland, a history professor at Hazard Community & Technical College. “The reassignment of the general counsel to a new job and the hiring of a new general counsel suggests that the money is there for the central office but not for the community colleges themselves.”

Box announced Cantrill’s redeployment in an office email last week.

Cantrill’s three-page contract says he will perform his new duties “on a full-time basis and during normal working hours.” As to his duties, the contract states that they “shall be those assigned by the KCTCS president primarily in the nature of participating in a special project to address and complete a revision of KCTCS systemwide policies and procedures.”

Asked how badly in need of revision those policies and procedures are, KCTCS spokeswoman Mary Hemlepp said, “Policies and procedures are always undergoing revision and updates to ensure compliance with legal standards.”

Cantrill’s shift in standing at KCTCS was sudden. In his first formal evaluation by Box last year, Box wrote that Cantrill “consistently exceeded expectations of job requirements.”

“Cam has been an exceptional adviser to me as the new KCTCS president,” Box wrote in Cantrill’s 2014-15 evaluation. “He is putting together a solid team that should help our legal department be able to deal with the myriad of issues facing our system. I appreciate his dedication and hard work.”

The evaluation, however, did not address Cantrill’s relationship with employees in the legal department. In his investigative report, Moorman wrote that the office harbored a “great deal of tension and dissatisfaction.”

“Persons at KCTCS told me that Cantrill can come across as gruff and opinionated, that Cantrill at times uses coarse language, and that Cantrill at times uses dismissive language to refer to employees of KCTCS who work outside the legal office,” Moorman wrote in his two-page letter.

Moorman’s letter indicates that KCTCS was concerned about inappropriate romantic overtures. But he wrote that none of the 11 witnesses he interviewed claimed that Cantrill had engaged in any such conduct. Moorman noted only an occasion when Cantrill was said to have shown a female subordinate a video on his phone that was “not pornographic nor overtly sexual,” but which made the employee feel “uncomfortable and intimidated.”

No lawsuits were filed. Moorman, who was paid $20,474 by KCTCS, concluded that Cantrill’s language and the showing of the video did not foster a sexually hostile workplace. “Nonetheless,” he wrote, “the video and language could certainly be seen as unprofessional and disrespectful, particularly coming from the general counsel of a public institution.”

Reporter James McNair can be reached at jmcnair@kycir.org and (502) 814.6543.