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Adrian Walker

Roxbury Community College case closed, but headaches remain

Although managed by Roxbury Community College, the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center is a vital community center and a hub for Massachusetts high school athletics.
Although managed by Roxbury Community College, the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center is a vital community center and a hub for Massachusetts high school athletics. Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe/File

Now that he has been cleared of any suspicion of wrongdoing by Attorney General Maura Healey, where does Keith McDermott go to get his reputation back?

Until September, McDermott was the longtime head of the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center. The track is part of Roxbury Community College — at least for now. McDermott was removed after running afoul of the RCC administration, for reasons administrators have always refused to explain in detail.

To say that the track is part of the college does not capture its importance. It is a vital community center and a hub for Massachusetts high school athletics. The nationally televised New Balance Indoor Grand Prix each February presents Roxbury as a place where good things happen.

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McDermott’s firing prompted an immediate community uproar. His former bosses responded by claiming they had “concerns” about the management of the track and asked for an investigation by the state auditor’s office. Auditor Suzanne Bump quickly determined that the allegations raised were more appropriate for a law enforcement agency and referred it to Healey’s office.

According to a statement released by Healey’s office last week, the investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing. The case is closed.

In essence, McDermott’s dismissal was never rooted in anything more than a clash of personalities.

But by hinting at serious — possibly criminal — wrongdoing, RCC officials damaged the reputation of a talented administrator, and they had to know they were doing so. McDermott, who is technically on administrative leave pending dismissal, has been on a job search. But good luck finding a job when potential employers are aware that your current bosses are having you investigated.

“I’m just exhausted,” McDermott said Sunday. “Part of me wants to fight, but part of me just wants this whole thing resolved. I don’t understand how we got here.”

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After the investigation’s conclusion was announced, state Representative Chynah Tyler called for a community meeting Monday night to discuss the track. The RCC board meets Tuesday night. Both gatherings offer the potential for public fireworks.

The blame for this fiasco falls squarely at the feet of RCC president Valerie Roberson. She was working feverishly this weekend to reach a severance agreement with McDermott, in an effort to forestall further controversy.

In fact, she announced a settlement Saturday night — in a statement she e-mailed to me — although she acknowledged in a telephone interview Sunday night that her statement was premature.

The level of dysfunction this sorry episode reflects is about more than one employee, or even the management of the track.

Every few years, it seems, Roxbury Community College is on the verge of meltdown. Roberson was brought in after the last administration was run out a few years ago, in the wake of a series of Globe stories and columns about sweeping mismanagement at the school. Much of the school’s board was pushed out as well. But the new bosses are barely an improvement over the old bosses.

RCC is a precious community resource, and it is beyond frustrating to see yet another management team mired in fruitless drama, rather than building the institution Boston needs RCC to become.

The future of the track itself is unresolved. A bill has been filed in the Legislature to remove it from the control of RCC. But there isn’t a clear consensus yet on a management structure to replace it. One possibility is that another college could run the track. Another idea — probably more palatable to the neighborhood — is that the track could have its own board of directors. In any scenario, RCC would have ready access to the facility. Roberson said she opposes any change in the management structure.

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McDermott isn’t likely to return under any circumstances. But there are hard lessons to be learned from the way he departed, and they must not be ignored.


Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at adrian.walker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.