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June 10, 2013 9:45:38 AM
Columbus Municipal Schools Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell may have violated a school district policy that prohibits the superintendent from engaging in any outside business ventures.
Liddell is the owner and CEO of a grant-writing company called Success Makers Associates.
Information obtained by the Dispatch shows that at least on one occasion, Liddell appears to have performed outside work while under her contract with the CMSD. Success Makers is listed as the website creator for a website for Mississippi Rep. Tyrone Ellis (D-Starkville) called thehopecenterofms.org. That domain name was registered on March 10, 2013, according to wschange.com. An undated photo on Ellis' website shows the Superintendent and names her as CEO of Success Makers Associates and "consultant" to Ellis' organization.
A check of Success Maker's Associates' Facebook page listed three "featured clients" for 2013, one of which was The Hope Center of Mississippi. On March 29, Success Maker's Facebook page was updated to read "Email the CEO, Dr. Martha Liddell: email@example.com. On the same day, the page proclaimed "Success Makers Associates writes grants for all types of organizations and can assist you in (securing) start funding for a new business or help you expand an existing business.
In the "albums" folder, the CMSD logo is shown with a caption that names Liddell as Superintendent: "Dr. Martha Liddell is Superintendent of Education Columbus Municipal School District. 5,000 student enrollment in Columbus, Mississippi. Her passion for excellence involves ensuring children receive a quality education."
The Facebook page was last updated March 30.
Listed under "Superintendent Consultation" in the CMSD Policy Manual, superintendents are forbidden from engaging in other business enterprises:
"The Superintendent shall devote his/her time to the supervision of the school district. He/she shall not be engaged in any other business. Only by prior agreement with the board may the Superintendent undertake for remuneration consultive work, speaking engagements of other professional obligations.
It continues by saying, "CAUTION IS ADVISED: The Superintendent should review ethics laws 25-4-101 et seq. Acceptance of offers for consultive work, speaking engagements, etc., which come due to his/her position as Superintendent may violate ethics laws."
According to the Mississippi Secretary of State's website, Success Makers Associates is a Limited Liability Company established by Michael Liddell on Feb., 26, 2010. Michael Liddell is Martha Liddell's husband. The business email listed on the application is Martha Liddell's personal email. The phone number listed on the application is Martha Liddell's cell phone number. The business address listed on the application is the Liddell's home. Martha Liddell is the only name listed under "original member."
On the 2011 annual report filed with the Secretary of State's office, the company's email address was updated to firstname.lastname@example.org. Martha Liddell is listed as the CEO.
On the 2012 annual report, she is listed as the CEO and is also listed as the contact person.
A search of Success Makers Associates' website has Dr. Liddell listed as the CEO on numerous occasions including a summary of her accomplishments. Michael Liddell is not mentioned anywhere on the website.
The website claims Success Makers Associates is a "certified grants specialist" offering "education and business consulting."
The rate for Success Makers Associates ranges from $350 for a "grant orientation turn-key" to a beginning price of $1,500 for the company to write a grant.
Dr. Liddell was appointed Interim Superintendent in May 2011. She was named Superintendent in June 2012. Liddell's salary, including bonus, for 2012 is $158,017.33 and features raises for each of the two years remaining on her contract.
During Liddell's interview for the superintendent position board members questioned Liddell on her grant-writing business. The board asked for a detailed list of Liddell's clients before making a decision on whether to allow her an exception to the policy, but board members said they never received that list and an exception was never granted. Her contract does not give permission for Liddell to continue consulting.
On Tuesday, the board will hold another special meeting, again to address concerns regarding Liddell's job performance.
Last Thursday, the board held a special meeting to discuss Liddell using school funds and personnel for a private party held in December at the Trotter Center. The Board met for three hours in executive session in what board member Jason Spears described as a "fact-finding" effort, but took no action.
When asked about the party by the Dispatch on May 29, Liddell said the party was "personal event" for her friends, family and business acquaintances.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.