Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 27, 2014

Fest board discussed concerns about Morris as incoming president

TRAVERSE CITY — National Cherry Festival officials picked former local school board member Gerald Morris to lead the nonprofit organization's governing board following this year's festival, despite increasing concerns his son's high-profile sex crime conviction might tarnish the festival's image.

The Cherry Festival's board of governors chose Morris as its president-elect in September 2013. Morris is a former IRS agent and ex-president of the Traverse City Area Public Schools Board of Education. Local attorney Mike Borden, the board's immediate past president, said festival board governors recently discussed concerns about the public's perception of Morris, but didn't act to remove his from the pending post.

Borden said the board will address the matter again in September, when they vote to consider elevating Morris to Cherry Festival president.

TCAPS administrators in 2008 hired Morris' son, Marc Morris, despite a school policy that bars the district from hiring school board members' relatives for permanent positions. Gerald Morris served on the school board at the time his son was hired and then promoted to a permanent position. The district also hired Marc Morris despite a criminal record that included drug and drunken driving convictions, as well as probation violations.

Today, Marc Morris is serving an eight-year prison sentence after he parlayed his janitorial job at a Traverse City middle school into a sexual relationship with a then-13-year-old girl. Morris' sex crimes with the girl began in 2010 and lasted two years. That relationship came to light after school officials fired him for showing up to work drunk.

Current festival president Dave Barr, who served with Gerald Morris on the TCAPS board, said he has no concerns about the public's perception of Morris as a potential festival president.

"Gerry's been an exceptional board member," Barr said. "I don't know if the sins of the son can be tied back to the parents in this particular case."

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