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Tensions rise at BOE meeting surrounding legal matters

POSTED: February 16, 2017 1:37 p.m.

Things got heated at a special meeting of the Liberty County Board of Education Tuesday at 4 p.m. and the controversy carried over into the regular meeting at 5:30.

The night included three executive sessions that apparently were over personnel matters and board member conduct.

The acrimony was apparent from the start of the special meeting, which included a motion from Chairwoman Lily Baker to exclude board member Marcus Scott from executive session. 

The BOE went into executive session, without Scott, to discuss legal matters according to the agenda.

Scott remained at the dais as the BOE stayed in executive session until 5:25 p.m..

Exchanges during the regular meeting also highlighted tensions:

Baker said she researched whether an attorney should be at every meeting after receiving a Feb. 7 email from Scott that said Long and Chatham counties have attorneys at meetings. According to Baker, the email said most school districts do. But she said Long, Wayne and Bryan counties do not have attorneys at all meetings. She said representatives of those districts said attorneys are present only when requested and usually to handle specific items.

She also said the Savannah-Chatham County School District does have two law firms at some meetings.

“The minority law firm takes care of students’ hearings,” Baker said. “That is their job. The major/majority comes in when it deals with real estate, worker’s comp and personnel issues. They pay them $165 per hour for the major/majority or $145 if it is an associate and $60 per hour if it is a paralegal.”

BOE member Carol Guyett said LCSS used to have an attorney on retainer. That attorney would make himself available as needed. She questioned the need.

“I am a little concerned about having an attorney at every meeting because normally when we get into legal issues it is during an executive session… when we have questions concerning certain personnel issues or even real estate purchases,” Guyett said. “I have really mixed feelings. I would not be opposed to retaining a lawyer and having them on retainer for certain things, but until I know what they would be doing at every meeting… I think that would be a bit much.”

Member Verdell Jones said it would cost too much if the rates were similar to that of Chatham County. However, she said she would like to have an attorney more readily available to answer questions.

Then, before asking for a vote on whether to have an attorney regularly attend BOE meetings, Baker said, “I do want to say this before I stop and take a vote for it. The statement in that email went on to say, ‘I don’t see any negatives of having an attorney unless we have something to hide.’ I want to say to this audience and to that camera, I don’t have anything to hide. Whether I vote this up or I vote this down. I don’t think anyone on this board has anything to hide.”

Scott, who had stayed quiet, then leaned into the microphone and addressed Baker.

“Did you tell us about Roger Reese?” Scott asked, referencing LCSS’s chief financial officer, who is threatening to sue Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee and the board.

Reese has alleged through an attorney that Lee violated the law during recent bidding for banking services. A letter from his attorney, Matthew Billips, also said that Lee threatened Reese’s job because he took his complaints to the BOE chairwoman.

“Mr. Scott you are out of order,” Baker replied.

“You are calling my name out in that email… You have something to hide in that instance,” Scott interrupted.

“You’re out of order,” Baker fired back. “Either get in order or I will ask to have you be removed.”

“Do what you got to do,” Scott said.

“You’re out of order,” Baker said again.

“No you’re out of order for saying that,” Scott said.

“No I’m not. I’m reading your email as it pertains to the attorney… So I don’t have anything to hide…,” Baker said. “Does anyone else have anything to say?”

“When the bid came out, and we weren’t aware of it, yet you were aware of it, is that not hiding?” Scott asked.

Baker slammed the gavel down twice and said, “You’re out of order. We are not talking about a bid.”

The motion to have an attorney at every meeting was voted down 6-1.

 

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