Attorney: Decision to fire and hire Berkeley County superintendents done illegally
MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (WCSC) - A media law attorney, Jay Bender, is weighing in on the decision by the majority of the Berkeley County School board voting to have new leadership on Tuesday night, saying it was done illegally.
Deon Jackson was fired after a 6-3 vote. Board members Yvonne Bradley, Crystal Wigfall and David Barrow voted against his termination.
“If you want to destroy all credibility as a board member and start a new superintendent under a cloud, do what the majority did last night,” Jay Bender says. “What that tells me is the people who voted to fire the incumbent and the people who voted to hire a new superintendent met outside of public view to come to the decisions that were announced at last night’s meeting.”
Bender says if a majority of board members met outside of the public view, it would have been in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. He says a majority of the board is a quorum and under the law a quorum cannot meet to discuss public business or act upon a matter within their discretion without giving public notice of the meeting. He adds the law exists to prevent public business from being conducted in secret.
Barrow, who previously served as chairman of the school board and represents District 5, called the board’s move to fire Jackson a “political witch hunt.”
The board voted 6-1 to have Dr. Anthony Dixon serve in the role. The Charleston County School District had named Dixon to serve as its chief of schools back in August.
Bender adds if there was a search for superintendent, the public is entitled to see material collected in the search for not fewer than three people who comprised the group from which the selection was made.
“My guess is this district will come back and say ‘we had no applicants, we just decided on this guy,’” Bender says. “Now, how is it that this guy suddenly surfaced at a meeting where there had been no previous discussion of needing a superintendent. So this new majority apparently has no understanding of the law or if they understand the law they seem to be willfully disregarding it.”
Bender believes there was some kind of new search because the majority of the board had a candidate already with no indication that there was a vacancy.
“I think this school board is acting with supreme arrogance and ignorance,” Bender says. “I’ll give them credit for being ignorant of the law but my guess is it was a willful violation.”
Bender goes on to say the description of what was to be discussed in executive session was also in violation of the law because it did not state with specificity that there was going to be a discussion of the superintendent.
Bender says there are two ways to proceed in this scenario. One is the traditional way and a citizen could file suit under the Freedom of Information Act against the board to seek a determination that the law was in fact violated and get an injunction against future violation of the law. Bender explains the second is under the Inspector General law in South Carolina where the governor can request the Inspector General to look into school districts.
When asked the reason for terminating, Mac McQuillin, the board’s new chairman, sent the following statement Wednesday night.
“There was no meeting prior to Tuesday’s Board meeting. Four Board members were re-elected incumbents. On Thursday of last week, in accordance with Board policy, those Board members requested that then Chair of the Board, Dave Barrow, add the personnel items to the agenda’s executive session. Prior to the meeting, Mr. Jackson, Ms. Richardson, and Dr. Dixon were notified of the agenda items. On Tuesday, the Board met as a whole, for the first time, to discuss the matters in executive session and returned to regular session to vote on the matters.”
Live 5 has reached out to all the other board members but have yet to hear back.
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