Charleston Co. School District considers new ‘guard rails’ for outside counsel

After the superintendent fired the district’s top lawyer last year, now the school board is set to meet Monday to discuss a new policy proposal.
Published: Jan. 9, 2023 at 5:09 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 9, 2023 at 5:26 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - After Superintendent Don Kennedy “parted ways” with the district’s top lawyer last year, the school board is set to meet to discuss a policy proposal that would set “guard rails” around outside counsel.

The revised policy the board will consider at Monday’s meeting appears to be a direct result of the departure of the district’s staff attorney Mercedes Pinckney-Reese back in December.

Before parting with the district – she wrote a letter to the school board accusing the superintendent of replacing her with outside lawyers who gave orders to her employees, controlled finances and bullied staff.  Pinckney-Reese also accused those two new interim co-general counsels - Alice Paylor and Margaret Seymour - of funneling Charleston County School District cases to their law firm.

The district strongly disputes the claims.

The new policy adds language aimed at providing guidelines around how outside counsel, general counsel and staff attorneys should operate. It states general counsel:

“…shall not have any authority to hire or fire any CCSD employee or to authorize any payments by the District unless given specific authority by the superintendent or Board with regard to settlement of disputes,” the policy reads.

Board member Ed Kelley says, while the policy change did originate from the situation with Pinckney-Reese, the changes are designed to clarify the roles better and to have better oversight on legal expenses.

The board is also considering three other policy changes. One would give board members the same access to schools as parents, another that would allow a member of the board to open meetings with a prayer and a third clarifies how the board chair is elected.

The board is also expected to give an update on the search for superintendent.

Kelley says they are going to give an update on the committee responsible for vetting the companies that will conduct the nationwide search for a new superintendent. He stresses that the committee will make recommendations and the selection of a new superintendent will be done by the full board.

Under the new board, the meeting time has been pushed back from early afternoon to 5:15 p.m. Read the agenda here: https://go.boarddocs.com/sc/charleston/Board.nsf/Public