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Slimantics: A welcome breath of fresh air

 

Slim Smith

 

Somebody pinch me. 

 

Thursday evening, the Columbus Municipal School District Board of Trustees continued a recent run of mystifying behavior, removing board president Currie Fisher and installing long-time school administrator Edna McGill to run the district while the search for an interim superintendent continues. 

 

The board acted decisively and firmly. Around here, that sort of conduct is, indeed, mystifying. 

 

Quite frankly, we don't know what's got into 'em. 

 

But we like it. 

 

While it's a safe bet that there are some people in the community who do not approve of the board's actions in recent weeks, there is no denying that the board asserted its authority. It performed the function it was intended to perform. Under the direction of former board president Tommy Prude, the CMSD Board's creed had always been "Malum non audi; non vide; non loquere." (Hear no evil; see no evil; speak no evil.). The board's timid posture in its dealings with schools superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell, who in retrospect desperately needed close supervision, greatly exacerbated the chaos, confusion and ill-will that already plagued a district struggling to recover its academic footing. 

 

When Prude's term on the board ended, the dynamics changed. New appointee Angela Verdell joined Jason Spears, Aubra Turner and a suddenly energized Glenn Lautzenhiser to form a board that began to ask questions, challenge assertions, probe, examine and research. The more active they became in this effort, the more obvious it became that there were serious problems in the superintendent's office. That knowledge, along with a series of reports by The Dispatch revealing Liddell's litany of questionable conduct reached a critical mass during this past week. Alone among the board members to blindly stay-the-course charged by Prude was Currie Fisher, who assumed the board president's position upon Prude's exit.  

 

Fisher proved unable to reestablish the status quo, however. 

 

The Board met in executive session twice, for a combined nine hours, before reaching a decision to fire Liddell on Monday night. The board vote was 3-2 and while the vote was held in executive session, how the individual board members voted is probably the worst kept secret in school board history. 

 

Certainly, it was not an easy decision to make. The board members, particularly the black board members, faced enormous pressure from members of the black community whose blind allegiance to Liddell compelled them to claim that the decision to remove Liddell was based on race, sex or both. Unable to challenge the validity of the well-documented evidence of Liddell's suspect performance, that group turned predictably - regrettably - to the one weapon that injuries all parties. The claim of racism/sexism is an irresponsible, reckless charge that reasonable people -- be they black or white, male or female --will easily reject, especially since there has not been one iota of evidence to support such an explosive claim. 

 

Tuesday, the day after Liddell's firing, local NAACP director Lavonne Harris appeared before the Columbus City Council to urge the council to intervene and demand "transparency" from the CMSD board. It was a laughable request for two reasons. First, only minutes before Harris appealed the council to demand transparency from the CMSD board, the council had demonstrated its disdain for transparency through a last-minute change to the agenda that led to the council voting itself a $4,000 pay raise. Second, there wasn't anything obscure about the board's decision to fire Liddell. The case against Liddell is well-documented. 

 

Council members told Harris that they, too, were disturbed by the CMSD's lack of transparency (code speak for "why didn't you ignore the evidence against Liddell and continue with business as usual?"). The mayor and some council members said they planned to speak to board members about the matter. 

 

On Thursday night, Mayor Robert Smith, along with two council members - Whisperin' Joe Mickens and Kabir "Moot" Karriem -- attended the CMSD's special meeting. 

 

In one respect, Mickens and Karriem are, indeed, transparent: You can see right through them. The mayor? Hard to figure. He seems too savvy to be drawn into a race war. If he believes the school board's actions -- and for that matter, the reporting that exposed Liddell's poor conduct -- were racially motivated, he should say so. He's the mayor. His opinion matters. 

 

As for Thursday's meeting, if Smith, Mickens and Karriem attended in hopes their august presence would influence the CMSD's decisions, it didn't seem to amount to much. 

 

Fisher, who had actually solicited an outside group to attend Monday's meeting to put pressure on a board she presides over, was voted out of the president's position by a 3-1 vote. Earlier, the board installed McGill, who has worked in administrative roles in both the city and county during her long career, to take over day-to-day operations of the district until an interim superintendent can be found. 

 

It's been a tough few months for the school board. They've faced some very unpleasant business in the face of enormous criticism. In every respect, the board acquitted itself well. It operated the way a board should operate. It did its duty. Let the chips fall where they may. 

 

There are two things that are now certain: The CMSD Board members have performed a great service to the city of Columbus ... and they will never be forgiven for it. 

 

The council will make sure of that. While it won't be able to remove any of the offending board members, it can appoint a new member in February when Turner's term expires. 

 

I am sure they'll find someone more suitable. 

 

After all, you can't have a school board running around, fulfilling its duty, acting independently, exercising its authority and making its decision on merit rather than alliances. 

 

Malum non; audi non; vide non loquere! 

 

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

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