Although a special called city Board of Education meeting was called only to get approval of agreements pertaining to Head Start, talk soon turned to how the board was going to handle upcoming meetings without an attorney Tuesday morning.
That discussion comes just days after the board severed its ties with the Kirby Law Firm, a move that becomes effective July 15.
After both the agreements with Head Start and Telemaon were approved and the board adjourned, members reconvened at the request of colleague Carol Worley to discuss how to start the process of looking for new legal council.
Kirby Law Firm owner Albert Kirby was not at Tuesday’s meeting, nor last Thursday’s meeting when his contract with the system was terminated, but colleague Ana-Cristina Jimenez was in attendance in Kirby’s place at both meetings.
“I just wanted to make sure that we were taking steps to have coverage come July 16,” Worley explained to the board, noting the urgency she felt to discuss the matter. “When I threw the question out there about what we have done, the answer I got was we hadn’t done anything yet (to find new representation). I just want to get a better understanding of the process, and I want to make sure that we have representation as we move forward.”
Clyde Locklear, assistant superintendent of finance and facilities, said the issue simply hasn’t come up over the years, since Kirby covered any issues.
“We have been fortunate because we have had an attorney on contract for the past 20 years,” Locklear said. “But in the absence of you attorney on contract, you could bring in someone to serve for a particular meeting, or for the duration of your bid process (for a new attorney). You have that option.”
“Is it easier for us to begin the bid process now?” asked board vice chairwoman Georgina Zeng.
Locklear explained that while legal services are a professional service and do not have to be bid out under state law, if the board wanted to, they could use an informal process of interviewing and selecting an attorney that way.
“It is really up to what you all want to do,” he said. “We will do what the board pleases.”
“I think that we should offer the services out for bid,” noted board chairman E.R. Mason. “There are some board members who like to look at the amounts charged per hour and things like that. I don’t think we should just go and get someone just because they are an attorney. I believe that we can look at the prices that he/she will charge us for those services, because we have some sticklers on the board about money, so we need to go ahead and do it right.”
Again, Locklear explained that the options were all up to the board and that if they decided to do a more informal approach, salaries should be discussed up front.
“Before anything is done, you have to make sure it is in the agreement you both sign,” he said.
The point was important for Worley, who, along with Mason, voted against terminating Kirby’s contract last week.
“With the comment about members of the board who are ‘sticklers’ … yeah, I am one of those,” Worley said.
“I would hope the whole board would be,” interjected Randy Barefoot.
“We need to be prepared for this because it is coming,” continued Worley. “The $150 Kirby charged per meeting is way under that standard. Whoever we get, we are going to have to really pay.”
Kirby Law Firm charged the board $150 each time he attended a function of the board, in addition to a base salary of roughly $24,000 a year. By contrast, Sampson County Schools board attorney Ben Wright gets paid $300 to attend each meeting and was paid $13,608 last year, according to Sampson County Schools director of finance Dale McLamb.
Additional funds are paid to the attorneys for participating in phone conferences, preparing legal materials and taking calls from board members, among other things.
For the Clinton City Board of Education, time plays a major factor in their decision to retain another attorney.
“Mr. Kirby’s contract will end on July 15; we need to decide where we go from here,” said Mason.
Locklear suggested waiting until contact is made with the N.C. School Boards Association to see what resources and advice could be offered.
New superintendent Stuart Blount said he would call the association to see if staff there can provide legal council options and resources and bring that information to the board at the July 10 meeting.
Before the board adjourned, Worley asked if there would be a close-out meeting with Kirby’s firm to make sure everything is complete.
“Can we do that?” she asked.
Jimenez said something could be arranged.
“I don’t know what is appropriate or what is in order, but my concern is that since you (the Kirby Law Firm) will not be representing us any longer, we need to know that the things we have asked you to do have been taken care of,” Worley said. “We need to know that closure has been brought to those things. I am just curious of how that works.”
Again Jimenez assured the board something could be arranged. “We can put that together,” she said.
The board agreed.
However, Worley then shared that she would like to have Kirby, himself, come to the July 10 meeting to ‘share’ his feelings about the termination.
“I feel that I need to revisit some issues (with Kirby) for myself so I can bring some closure with the law firm,” she explained. “In my opinion, I feel that he should come to the meeting Tuesday and let him have his say. I have some questions that I would like to address with him, things that I have heard, so I can have some clarity. So I feel like, in fairness, he should come and be prepared to address it.”
Zeng quickly spoke up. “Carol is speaking for herself, not the entire board. We have terminated so he is not bound to come before us and give us any explanation about anything. As a board member, we are the ones that terminated him, so we have no right to ask him to come before us. That is up to him.”
“The only reason I am throwing it back out is because the five of us here said that we wanted to give him a chance, to listen to what he had to say,” Worley added. “I am not at peace with everything because we did not give him a chance to speak …”
Barefoot said the board should just move on. “For me, as a board member, having him come back after we already terminated him is a moot point,” he said. “I think we should go ahead from here, just my opinion.”
“If he wants to do it, I don’t see why we can’t do it in a closed session,” said Mason.
“He can come,” said Zeng, “But you can’t say he has to come and explain things to us. You can request him to come, but he doesn’t have to do anything.”
The board will meet Tuesday, July 10 at Butler Avenue School at 7 p.m.
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.