Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Divided Richmond Heights school board fires another potshot at Superintendent

Hot debate precedes vote not to renew contract

Legal and ethical issues surround pair of 3-2 board decisions to dump supt., hire former board president as legal counsel

In a highly contentious and legally suspect fashion, the Richmond Heights Board of Education voted 3-2 at a 7:30AM special meeting yesterday not to renew the contract of Superintendent Linda T. Hardwick when it expires next year on July 31.

If the board does not offer Dr. Hardwick a new contract, it would continue the revolving door of district leaders that had one teacher in attendance estimate that at least nine superintendents have come and gone during her 20 years in the district, including three in the past four years alone.

Board president Josh Kaye introduced the resolution immediately after the board reconvened following the executive session it had entered as soon as the meeting starting. Only two board members — Bobby Jordan and Linda Pliodzinskas — registered surprise at Kaye’s motion, as did the superintendent, creating an inference that while the issue had not been discussed at the closed door session, the other board members — Aaron Burko and Bob Fox — had been apprised of Kaye’s intent.

Pliodzinskas, the senior member on the board, registered a number of objections to the resolution, especially pertaining to the timing of the resolution and the existence of many issues of much greater urgency.

Board president Kaye, aside from explaining the effect of the resolution, offered no rationale for its support, leaving that task to Burko. Bob Fox joined Kaye and Burko in supporting the motion, with Pliodzinskas and Jordan opposing. Video of the motion, discussion and vote here

Board member Fox then introduced a resolution that the school district add former board president Charles Tyler to its roster of attorneys. Tyler was board president last year when he resigned as a result of a job transfer out of town. 

When asked about his relationship to Tyler, Fox at first downplayed his connection to Tyler before eventually admitting that Tyler had represented Fox’s wife in litigation and was the family attorney. 

Fox defended his recommendation by saying that “the hiring of friends has gone on here forever.” Fox praised Tyler’s legal skills and suggested that Tyler could save the district money on its legal bills. After the meeting, Fox told The Real Deal that the district’s legal bill for the fiscal year ending this month could exceed $200,000.

The debate over Tyler raised questions of ethics, conflict of interest, and public perception. Pliodzinskas and Jordan opposed hiring Tyler at this time, citing ethical and professional concerns, the haste with which the issue was presented, incomplete information, and the departure from board norms in making decisions in June on organizational matters usually resolved in January. 

Jordan's motion to table the hiring of Tyler but his motion was defeated 3-2, as he and Pliodzinskas were on the losing side on all meeting long.

Several legal experts consulted by The Real Deal raised a number of legal questions about the meeting, including the Board’s possible non-compliance with Ohio’s Sunshine Law, with respect both to the adequacy of public notice for the special meeting, and appropriateness of the items presented under “new business”. 

After the meeting, Brenda Brcak, the district's chief financial officer, said that the Lake County News Herald  (an out of county publication) was the district's daily paper of record and that the Sun Messenger was its weekly paper of record. However, the Sun-Messenger did not publish an edition after the meeting was scheduled and it is unknown whether the News Herald published notice of the meeting. Brcak also said the meeting notice was published on the school district's website, but several people, including at least two city officials ,have said they looked at the site but did not see any such notice.

Of possibly greater concern was whether board member Bob Fox had a conflict in proposing and voting for the district to retain an attorney who has represented members of his immediate family.

“The hiring of friends has gone on here forever.”
board member Bob Fox, in support of his resolution to hire former school board president Charles Tyler, his friend and former family attorney.

The board is scheduled to have yet another special meeting tomorrow night at 6pm to determine formally whether disgraced coach boys basketball coach Jason Popp will be allowed to return next season, or whether the superintendent's recommendation for his successor will be accepted.

* Three short videos on the portion of the meeting covering the discussion of Charles Tyler are being uploaded at Facebook as I post this. Each video carries "RichHts action on ChasTyler" in the title. The links will be posted as soon as they are available. 

Video Links added at 2PM: 

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