In a room full of executive committee members of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, Eddie Bonine rolled the dice, and they came up “seven.”
The executive director of the panel of principals who hold success and failure of the LHSAA in their flailing arms shocked his bosses at the end of the two-day summer meetings in Baton Rouge on June 1
by giving them notice to either give him a vote of confidence or release him from his contract, which has two years remaining.
And he did so in a general session with the media present. The group went into an immediate executive session and whisked the media out of the Crowne Plaza meeting room with computers in hand.
It didn’t take long for paranoia to set in. Within a minute of closing the doors behind the press, one committee member entered the lobby with a laptop that one reporter had left behind. I assured the member that laptops have neither ears nor recording devices.
The executive committee had two issues with the man:
Bonine’s referring to the LHSAA as a “dumpster fire” in a confidential memo to the National Federation of State High School Associations, a memo that was leaked to the media, and, secondly, his exploration of job openings with other associations.
On the other hand, the man the LHSAA hired to clean up its association has an issue of his own: The public school principals who run the show won’t let the man do the job for which he was hired. That job was supposedly to return the LHSAA to being a working, bipartisan organization that treats its more than 300 member schools as equal partners and works in harmony for the good of the whole association.
Unfortunately, the dumpster fire is not imagined.
And not being a typical “good old boy” in the mold of former commissioners “Muddy” Waters, Frank Spreiull and Kenny Henderson, Bonine is the most qualified and decent man to make the association run smoothly since Tommy Henry retired in 2007.
Now, Tommy Henry was a good old boy when he was commissioner. But there wasn’t a principal who exercised the power to lead him around by the nose. He called the shots for the executive committee and had the association running smoothly over his 30-odd years even as committee members came and left every two years.
Under Henry’s leadership, the LHSAA’s financial reserves grew from $40,000 to $1.5 million, using corporate sponsorships to flood the LHSAA coffers with working capital.
Sure, he spent a lot of money that a more conservative person would have thought twice about. He was a generous man, but it was with the approval of the executive committee, he would say. The IRS didn’t agree.
Bonine is quite unlike Henry. But he’s the most capable director they have had, and I believe after hearing what he had to say when he opened his heart behind closed doors, the executive committee will give him the one-year extension to the year 2020 he wants on his contract and other considerations.
Bonine said he went into the session not knowing if that would be his last meeting as executive director. But the onus was on the committee to hear him out.
They couldn’t afford to buy out a contract with two years remaining. Nor could they find a replacement in the short period of summer vacation.
The meeting ended with Bonine feeling much better about his immediate future in Baton Rouge. He remarked, “I was thinking this was going to be my last meeting. I was thinking the negotiations toward some sort of buyout were going to be in place. I was prepared for that.”
But he gambled and rolled the dice. He is still the executive director for two more years.
The executive committee now knows the man they hired and should mend whatever other differences they have with him. They’d better, unless they want to find someone in their principals ranks to fill his position and be the yes man who placates the many public school heads responsible for igniting the dumpster fire that has existed through the failure of public school principals’ willingness to work in a collaborative manner with everyone for the good of the association.
Eddie Bonine is their leader, and they should let him lead. You don’t win wars with politicians but with generals. Although politicians make the rules, they don’t stand on the front lines when the cannons fire.
Ron Brocato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.