PLEASANTVILLE — The local school board failed to select a solicitor for the second time since July, leaving the board without general counsel until the state monitor takes action.
Three potential attorneys were put up for a vote Tuesday, including current Solicitor James Carroll, but all three motions failed, again exposing tensions between two factions on the school board.
“We’re at a point here where we did not select a board attorney. Where do we go from here?” board member Jerome Page asked, adding he would like to go out to bid again and interview candidates.
Page’s request was denied by board President Carla Thomas. State-appointed monitor J. Michael Rush — one of two monitors who serves the board — advised the board that because of its inaction, it would be up to the monitors to make an appointment until the September meeting.
When board member Hassan Callaway, who was not present for the vote, arrived during an executive session, Thomas attempted to bring the Carroll Law Firm up for a vote again. Page, who voted against Carroll along with members Sharnell Morgan, Richard Norris and Cassandra Clements, objected.
“Madam President, that’s out of line,” Page said.
After a brief consultation among Rush, interim Superintendent Dennis Anderson and Business Administrator Elisha Thompkins, Rush again reiterated it would be up to the monitor to decide until next meeting.
Following the failed attempt at a vote, Callaway left the meeting.
“I have an issue with what just happened. If the monitor was not here with Mr. Callaway coming late, and it was approved, that would have swung the vote to the harm of the district,” Norris said. “When a person comes to just vote and leave, that’s a setup to me, and it’s not fair.”
The appointment of a board solicitor has been an ongoing issue for the district, and legal costs have been consistently mentioned by the business administrator and the state monitor as contributing to the district’s financial woes.
In her June 30 district exit plan, state monitor Constance Bauer said the district’s legal expenses continually exceed 130% of the statewide average per pupil amount — a contributing factor to the need for a monitor in the district. She wrote that all requests for legal advice should be made in writing and reviewed, and suggested in-house counsel to cut down on those costs.
The school board went out to bid for a solicitor March 8, but a resolution to make an appointment did not appear on the board agenda until three months later. The district received bids from the Carroll Law Firm, the Busch Law Firm, Capehart Scathard Attorney at Law, Parker McCay, and Grace Marmero and Associates. Bids were opened March 27 with all proposals at about $175 per hour.
At its July 1 meeting, the school board failed to appoint a solicitor, and Bauer took action after the meeting to extend Carroll’s contract to July 9. However, the July 9 board meeting did not take place due to lack of quorum.
Bauer extended Carroll’s contract until Aug. 13, noting this is the second time she had to intervene to protect the district legally.
“As the board knows, governance issues contributed to the reasons that the board twice has met with Department of Education officials in Trenton,” Bauer wrote July 11. “If the matter is not responsibly resolved by the board, it may become necessary to additionally intervene.”
Before the meeting ended, Page requested again to begin the process of removing Callaway from the board for missing consecutive meetings.