Tuesday, January 07, 2014
East Cleveland School Board votes to oust Library trustees
Pair of 5-0 votes put Library leadership in question as lawsuit looms
The East Cleveland Board of Education reelected retired judge Una H. R. Keenon once again as board president at its 2014 organizational meeting tonight. It then adjourned to a special meeting at which it voted in separate 5-0 votes to remove East Cleveland Library Board trustees William Fambrough and Devin Branch.
The effect of the school board’s actions are in doubt, however, as Fambrough and Branch, during brief speeches after the votes, said the school board was without authority under Ohio law to remove them and vowed to continue serving as library trustees.
The school board appoints one library trustee each year to a seven-year term and also makes appointments whenever there is a vacancy. The library board has resembled a game of musical chairs in recent years, as the school board has repeatedly had to fill recurring vacancies caused by resignations.
Tonight’s meeting drew about 40 East Cleveland residents, many of them supporters of Sheba Marcus-Bey, who was fired last week as library director. Fambrough, who intends to continue as president of the library’s trustees, and Branch, were part of the 4-3 majority that voted to terminate her.
While no reason was publicly stated for Marcus-Bey’s firing, The Real Deal has learned that several board members found her to be repeatedly insubordinate to them both publicly and privately. There was a sense that she felt her accountability was to members of the school board and not to the library board, according to several people who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Marcus-Bey attended tonight’s school board meeting, as did three lawyers who identified themselves as working on her behalf.
Attorneys representing the school board conceded before the first vote that their client’s authority to dismiss Fambrough and Branch was debatable. Lawyer Donna Andrew of Pepple Waggoner law firm said it was a close question and one her client was prepared to litigate.
Court action, almost certain to result from the school board’s action, has become a recurring theme for the library system. Just last month the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals dismissed lawsuits brought against Fambrough by two library employees. The appellate court overturned a lower court finding that Fambrough was in contempt for calling a special meeting of the board while the lawsuits were pending and firing the two employees, the library director and chief fiscal officer.
But Fambrough was vindicated when the higher court ruled that the trial court had overstepped its bounds and improperly sided with the two women, who both accused him of bullying them, a charge Fambrough has denied.
A series of complaints filed against Fambrough with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission by unhappy library employees were all dismissed last year for lack of probable cause.
A confrontation over whether Fambrough and Branch have been properly removed from the Board is likely to come soon. The library’s next regularly scheduled board meeting would normally be Monday, Jan. 20. Since that is a legal holiday, it is unclear when the meeting will actually take place. School board president Keenon made clear that the board would take time and follow an orderly process to select replacements for the ousted board members. But with Fambrough refusing either to relinquish authority or to turn over the keys to the building, the question of who is running the library is all but certain to wind up back in court.