June 24, 2013 10:16:01 AM
Sarah Fowler - firstname.lastname@example.org
Former Columbus Municipal School District Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell has sued to be reinstated as the district's superintendent.
The Dispatch obtained a copy of the lawsuit, which was filed Friday afternoon in Lowndes County Chancery Court by her attorney, Austin Vollor of Starkville. Dr. Liddell is asking the court to "intervene to restore the rights of the plaintiff, namely to reinstate her as superintendent."
Dr. Liddell was terminated as superintendent in a 3-2 vote on June 17 after a four-and-a-half hour executive session. The board declined to give an official reason for her termination but the decision came after the board of trustees launched an investigation into Liddell's personal financial dealings with district funds.
In a letter dated June 19, board president Jason Spears informed Liddell of her official termination. The letter outlined the reason for her termination, saying she violated state law and the Mississippi Educators Code of Ethics by using district funds for a party and making misleading public statements about the use of a caterer and her attempt to reimburse the district for those costs. The letter is part of the obtained court documents.
On May 30, The Dispatch reported that Liddell used CMSD funds to pay for a private party for her family, friends and business acquaintances held at the Trotter Convention Center on Dec. 23, 2012.
The party cost the district $447.51. Liddell reimbursed the district using personal checks in the amount of $150 (dated Jan. 30, 2013) and $188.23 (dated May 30, 2013).
During a special board meeting Thursday night, the board voted in executive session to send Liddell the official termination letter and banned her from CMSD property.
Board member Currie Fisher was removed as board president after she refused to sign the letter and delegated the responsibility to board vice president Jason Spears.
The lawsuit singles out Spears and fellow school board members Glenn Lautzenhiser and Aubra Turner and alleges they acted "under the cover of darkness" in their decision to remove Liddell as superintendent. The suit argues that the meeting in which Liddell was fired was held illegally. The suit also claims some board members met privately before the June 17 meeting, which would constitute an illegal meeting.
During Thursday's meeting, Fisher questioned board attorney David Dunn on an email he sent to Liddell regarding the June 17 executive session. Fisher took issue with Dunn telling Liddell he was "directed by" Spears, Lautzenhiser and Turner. Spears explained to Fisher that he, Lautzenhiser and Turner contacted Dunn individually after Fisher refused to put the subject of Liddell's job performance on the agenda.
Under "injunctive relief" Liddell states "the injury to the plaintiff significantly outweighs the harm the injunction could cause the defendant and entry of an injunction is consistent with the public interest."
The defendant in the case is the school district.
Liddell was appointed interim Superintendent in May 2011 when her predecessor, Dr. Del Phillips, resigned. She was named Superintendent in June 2012.
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.