The Liberty County Board of Education recently approved a new three-year contract, worth $190,000 a year, for Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee.
The last page of the contract reads: “This contract was approved by vote of the Liberty County Board of Education at a public meeting duly held on the 22nd day of July, 2014, and has been made a part of the official minutes for that meeting.”
However, the official minutes from the July 22 board work session make no mention of a vote to approve a new contract for the superintendent, nor is there any mention of such a vote on the meeting’s agenda.
The Courier learned of Lee’s new contract through Nancy O’Neal, a Savannah resident who owns property in Liberty County.
O’Neal said she filed an open-records request during a dispute with the school board over drainage work at Lewis Frasier Middle School that she said encroached on her property.
O’Neal’s request included documentation of administrator pay rates, which turned up Lee’s recently renegotiated contract.
According to board of education member Marcia Anderson, the line item “Personnel Recommendations,” which appears as a standard item on every board of education meeting agenda, includes a vote to approve the superintendent’s new contract.
However, the action regarding Lee was not listed on the standard “Personnel Actions” list that follows every board meeting at which personnel actions take place. The vote to approve the superintendent’s new contract also was excluded from the meeting’s minutes.
Board of Education Chairwoman Lily Baker said the vote to approve Lee’s new contract was taken in an open meeting and should have been included in the meeting’s official minutes.
“It should have been in the minutes,” Baker said. “Of course, it’s a personnel issue, but we went into executive session, and when we came out, we opened the door as we always do, and come out and see if there’s anyone there.
“We come out of executive session, then we take a vote in open meeting, because we have to do it and we’ve always done it that way,” Baker continued.
The board of education also voted to approve the July 22 work-session minutes at its regular meeting Aug. 12 — something that board of education Vice Chairwoman Carol Guyett said “slipped by all of us.”
“Dr. Lee’s sister had died that morning, and I missed that. I totally missed it,” Guyett said.
Board of education member Becky Carter said that the contract approval should have been more explicitly stated on the July 22 work-session agenda.
“It should have been (in the minutes) — that was even in the contract, that it would be part of the July 22 minutes,” Carter said. “I think (having it on the agenda) should have been done, too. I did not think that it was handled properly.”
Carter also said that she thinks the issue needs to be revisited and the proper steps followed.
“Place the item on the agenda, take a vote in public session and have the contract in the minutes,” Carter said.
Baker and Guyett both said that proper minute-keeping has been an ongoing issue within the board of education.
“I’m sure (the minutes) will have to be amended, because it should have been in the minutes, because we did vote in open meeting,” Baker said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit with our minutes … if you go back years, they’ve always been a little vague, and we’ve asked for them to be more detailed, so that’s something we’re still working on.”
“We are a work in progress,” Guyett added. “We’re trying to ensure that you can look at the minutes and know what went on.”
According to the Georgia Open Meetings Act, an agenda must be made available two weeks prior to any scheduled meeting by a governmental agency or board, and that agenda must include “all matters expected to come before the agency at such meeting.”
The Act goes on to say that “… the failure to include on the agenda an item which becomes necessary to address during the course of a meeting shall not preclude consideration and action upon such item.
“In all cases, the agency should discharge its obligations in an even-handed, balanced manner which does not mislead the public,” the Act continues.
As previously reported by the Courier, Lee’s original contract, worth $170,000 annually, was set to expire in 2016. Her new contract runs from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2017.