June 19, 2013 10:31:22 AM
Sarah Fowler - firstname.lastname@example.org
Less than 20 hours after it fired its superintendent, the Columbus Municipal School Board of Trustees met Tuesday to begin looking for an interim superintendent and a new chief financial officer.
Tuesday night, the board of trustees decided to consult the Mississippi School Board Association for a list of resumes for an interim superintendent and a chief financial officer. The district has been operating without a CFO since Kenneth Hughes was fired on May 9.
The board convened at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and took less than 10 minutes to make the decision to begin the search.
At the same time the school board was meeting, the board's Monday night actions were being discussed at Tuesday's city council meeting.
Lavonne Harris, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, appeared before the mayor and council demanding "transparency" from the school board. Flanked by Pastor Darren Leach of Genesis Church and Kamal Karriem, Harris took issue with the school board's four-and-a-half hour executive session Monday night.
Addressing the council, Harris said she was speaking on behalf of "the NAACP and the community."
"The community is totally upset with the conduct of the school board last night. We thought everything was inappropriate. For them to have us to wait for executive session for over five-and-a-half hours it's just ridiculous," she said.
Harris repeatedly asked the council when the "focus would be put back on our children."
"It's about the children and educating our children," she said. "The question would be to the council, what are we going to do now?"
"We know the school board is directed by the council and we just think it's time that you all are going to have to step up and start dealing with the situation and working for the community and for the people that put you in these positions."
Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem thanked Harris for appearing before the board and questioned the school board's "lack of transparency."
"I've been getting calls all day and I have no answer because the lack of transparency from the school board," he said. "Hopefully some of the questions that we look for we can get answers to."
Mayor Robert Smith reminded Harris that while the council appoints school board members, they have no authority over the board. He added that a school board member could not be removed by the council unless they were deemed of "unsound mind or convicted of a crime."
Councilman Charlie Box spoke up and mentioned an incident in which the council had tried to advise the school board on its budget but was sent a cease-and-desist letter by school board attorney David Dunn.
"The school board is completely autonomous," Box said. "We tried a couple of years ago to have a discussion about their budget and received a letter from their lawyer saying we needed to cease and desist from interfering. We can't even recommend to them according to state law. We were told to butt out and that's the way it has to be."
City attorney Jeff Turnage reminded council members that the council and the school board are two separate branches of government. The council is a legislative branch and the school board is an executive branch.
"We can't inter-meddle in a different branch of government because if the council tries to do that, they jeopardize their own position on this council," he said.
Karriem said he wasn't satisfied.
"Right now, transparency is lacking. We don't know the answers to the questions that are being asked. The superintendent has been fired and I think someone has to account to the parents and the citizens of Columbus for that action," he said.
"Whether they answer or not, we have a duty to find out the answers to these questions that have been before us. Somebody will talk to us."
Smith told Harris that he would try to meet with school board members.
"To me, it was vague as to why Dr. Martha Liddell was terminated, so hopefully, and I know they said it was a personnel matter, but with due respect to the mayor and the council, the appointing body, that someone from the school board, the chairman, someone, would set up a meeting with the mayor and the council and explain what's going on within the Columbus Municipal School District," Smith said.
School board president Currie Fisher was outside the city council meeting and spoke with Harris and Leach. When asked to provide the reason for Liddell's firing, Fisher declined to comment.
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.