The ad, which ran in The Sampson Independent April 21, 2011, reads: “The Clinton City Board of Education is soliciting bids for audit and legal services.”
It was pulled after just one day.
“It (the ad) implied that we want Mr. Kirby to get out,” said board member Carol Worley Wednesday, a day following Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting. “If someone is doing something that the board is not in favor of, we owe it to that person to sit down and explain that they are not meeting our expectations, not just take an ad out and look for someone else. It doesn’t make sense.”
The controversy over the ad came unexpectedly after it hit the paper, but the ad’s beginnings actually came during a September 2010 board retreat when superintendent Dr. Michael Basham suggested running ads to get bids on audit and legal services every five years to gauge options, as far as saving money for the board.
“The board and I went on the retreat and they mapped out things that they wanted done,” Basham said earlier this week. “At most systems, you bid out audit and legal services every five years or some period that the board decides. So I suggested that since it hadn’t been done, it should be done every five or so years.”
Among the topics presented at the retreat was the hiring of a new football coach and employing the best educators available, Basham said.
“I talked about bidding out the audit services and legal services. You go in with a plan, you present it, questions are asked and you suggest things to the board that you think are good, and there are things the board suggests and they are good, too. So you try and bring it all together and carry it all out during the year.”
Although relatively new to the system, Basham said his suggestion to bid out audit and legal services was met positively, or so he believed.
“At the time, the only thing I knew about our attorney was that he sent me the contract that I signed,” the superintendent noted. “I didn’t even consider it a big deal because 99 times out of 100 (after the bidding process) the same attorney is always hired again. To me, it is standard operating procedure to get the bids. What that does is it shows that you are trying to run a legitimate, straight forward organization that is transparent, which is what I have done throughout my entire career. But what it also does is it keeps everybody honest and it shows the public that we are trying to do this fairly and straight forward. I just looked at it as a procedure with nothing behind it. That’s it.”
But once the ad ran, it sparked a fire of controversy.
“Look, you are working with new board members,” said Worley. “Five of the people on the board have been on there less than three years; Mr. (E.R.) Mason has been there for eight. So we come in and we are still getting used to the process. We hear about bidding out the services, but nothing is finalized about it. Then all of a sudden eight months later you see this ad and go, what is going on here?”
In a two and a half hour closed session Tuesday night, the topic was brought up, with Mason reportedly supporting Kirby. Sources say Mason said the board should be coming together, not going against each other.
“I am a Christian man, but this mess is just ridiculous,” Mason reportedly said.
However, one of the bigger issues was the pay that Kirby was getting from the board.
Kirby, who initially resigned as board attorney back in September of 2005, was asked by the board to return and be contracted on a yearly basis. Upon his return, he also got a boost in pay. As a result, his $100 an hour fee was bumped up to $150 an hour and for every meeting he attends, he gets paid $150.
Mason nor Kirby returned messages left for them Wednesday and Thursday.
Basham said the one bid that was received will be rejected and the board will move on.
“I understand and I really do appreciate that Albert Kirby has done a great job for this board over the years,” he said. “I want to make it clear that at no time was anyone ever considering anybody else. Even if someone bids, how are they going to compete with him? In addition to that, the board can accept or reject anything they want to.”
What it all came down to, Basham said, was communication. And for that, he takes the blame.
“The thing of it is, if it was assumption on my part and I did wrong, then I did wrong,” he continued. “It is my fault. At the time, I thought I was doing right. It was a communication thing and that is how we learn.”
Worley said she doesn’t like having issues like this impeding the process.
“I need to be more comfortable with these types of decisions,” she said. “Because I can see that there is so much more value with having someone that has been here for 21 years on this board. He (Kirby) knows things that come up that may have come up in the past. If we have any kind of issues, he can shed light on those issues. Light, and to the same extent, some insight on how it was handled before or what other options we could have.”