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Date set for Reese tribunal hearing

Former Liberty County School System Chief Financial Officer Roger Reese will have a tribunal hearing in April.

The hearing will be held at 9 a.m. April 11 at the board of education office, according to a March 21 letter from LCSS attorney Phillip Hartley to Reese’s attorney Matthew Billips.

Long County Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters and former school superintendents Beauford Hicks and Terry Deloach will make up the tribunal panel. The three were suggested by Hartley and accepted by vote by the Liberty County Board of Education at the Feb. 28 meeting.

Reese, Liberty County School Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee and the BoE have been embroiled in controversy since at least January, when Billips sent a letter to Lee and the BoE threatening a law suit.

Reese threatened to sue Lee and the BOE, claiming violations of the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act and allegations of improperly handled bids for banking services.

Even the makeup of the tribunal, a panel empowered to decide on Reese’s claims, has been a source of contention.

When Billips learned the tribunal panel was chosen by Hartley last month he told the Courier, “Given that all three are current or former school superintendents and at least one of them is a former client of Mr. Hartley’s, I do not believe that they meet the requirement to be ‘impartial’ under the board policy. Further, we believe the board has waived its right to hold a hearing on Mr. Reese’s termination, in that it has already terminated him. He hasn’t been paid since January and he has received notice that his benefits have been terminated. We believe that the board is going to have to address this matter before a jury, not before a hand-picked kangaroo court.”

Reese’s claim his benefits were stopped is untrue, according to the school system.

LCSS Interim Director of Finance Janine Graham said, in an email two weeks ago, that the school system has not sent any paperwork to Reese terminating his benefits, that they continue to pay all benefits and that Reese is currently active in the American Fidelity system and has not been submitted for COBRA benefits.

It is uncertain when Reese was placed on administrative leave but based on documents obtained by the Courier, Reese was placed on leave without pay effective Jan. 20.

As reported by the Courier March 15, Lee expressed concerns about Reese and his job performance. In a Dec. 9 letter from Lee to Reese, she alleged Reese mishandled advertisements of meetings, failed to respond to requests by several agencies and contractors, overpaid a school employee and failed to perform many of his job functions.

Among the items Lee claims Reese failed to perform on time is the request for proposals for banking services, “Although I reminded you in April 2016 (we had initially discussed it as far back as September 2015) of the need to let a Financial Services RFQ (request for quote), it was not until late September or early October that you did so,” Lee states in the letter. “During the interim, you had several conversations with entities interested in sharing what they had to offer whereby you gave dates and commitments that you failed to keep. When I pointed this out to you and discussed how it reflected on the district, you assured me that you would be bringing closure to the matter soon.”
When the LCSS did open their requests for proposals, Ameris Bank and The Heritage Bank were the only two to submit bids by Oct. 7.

The letter Dec. 9, from Lee to Reese also said Reese initially recommended Ameris Bank because their services far exceeded Heritage Bank’s proposal,  “And that the said bank should be my recommendation to the board,” Lee wrote. “Days later, without explanation, you informed me that the other bank should be my recommendation followed by a suggestion that I recommend both banks. When I probed you further as to ‘why,’ you gave me information that was later refuted by the banking entity in question.”
The BoE voted 6-1 in favor of Ameris Bank after listening to both banks’ proposals in a Dec. 13 meeting.

The Dec. 9 letter from Lee to Reese was apparently not the first time Lee addressed concerns about Reese’s job performance.

Lee mentions Reese’s inability to follow through on assignments on time in several emails and in an inter-office memorandum from Lee to Reese dated Nov. 14, Lee wrote, “As you are well-aware, I have met with you on more than one occasion to discuss particulars relative to your job performance or lack thereof. There have been any number of concerns, several of which appears as follows:  Lack of communication, failure to follow through on assigned tasks, taking liberties that have financial impact on behalf of the school system, inaccessibility to staff, failure to meet deadlines, unacceptable quality or work and misrepresentation of fact.”

Reese responded to Lee’s letter on Dec. 13 saying in part, “Dr. Lee, I am forthright and completely honest in all my interactions with LCSS and its stakeholders. I disagree with your assessment of my job performance because it is a misrepresentation of my commitment and job performance.”

Lee’s tenure as superintendent ends at the end of the 2016-17 school year. She is being paid $190,000 in severance pay. BoE Chairwoman Lily Baker had said the decision for the payout was made by the BoE under the advisement of LCSS attorney Carl Varnedoe.

However, BoE member Marcus Scott IV said that is not completely true.

“Carl Varnedoe did not advise the BoE to buy her out,” he said during his Educational Hotline broadcast March 15, noting he couldn’t get specific because things were discussed in executive session. “The contract ended, we had options…and I’ll just leave it at that. The rest was handled in executive session so I’ll just leave it at that…I just want to clear that up….And I will say that if everyone wasn’t spineless we would have a different outcome.”


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