National Cherry Festival officials can’t pretend that public perception of those who lead the festival doesn’t count. Of course it does, just as the festival’s overall public image matters.
Given that fact of life, the festival can — and must - do better than to choose Gerald Morris as its next president.
The Cherry Festival’s board of governors chose Morris as president-elect in September 2013. A final decision on who will lead the festival next year will come this fall. For the festival as a whole, the board needs to look elsewhere for leadership.
Morris is a former IRS agent who served on the Traverse City Area Public Schools board of education and as board president.
It was a turbulent time for TCAPS as the district absorbed a series of cuts in state aid and experienced declining enrollment and increasing competition from private and charter schools.
Morris developed what a lot of people considered a reputation as something of a dictator — even a bully — during his tenure as president on what was a relatively weak board. He was brusque with parents and others at public board meetings and even more so behind closed doors, former board members and administrators said at the time.
A couple board members said in private they were often intimidated by Morris’ style. One even admitted he drove her to tears.
Having an abrasive personal style isn’t enough in itself to prevent someone from being an effective leader, though the board of a public body is no place for that kind of leadership.
But Morris’ track record didn’t make up for his style. He oversaw — and many say drove — a board decision in 2007 to close three elementary schools. While the move followed months of public input sessions, many parents felt at the time the process was skewed toward a predetermined decision and that they didn’t get the kind of respect from Morris and the administration they expected and deserved.