By MARINA WATERS
The Washington County Board of Education has recently spent a lot of time talking about potentially hiring an attorney, and at the board’s regularly scheduled Nov. 9 meeting, one attorney was voted to represent the BOE on an upcoming legal matter.
Board member David Hammond made the motion to hire Chattanooga-based attorney Scott Bennett to represent the board in a complaint regarding the distribution of Professional Educators of Tennessee fliers within the Washington County School System.
“I’m just throwing the name out there because I think (he’s spoken) with some here on this issue,” Hammond said.
The motion, which passed in a 5-4 vote came after Seeley said he would not be representing the board.
“I think I have made my opinion real clear that this was handled properly,” Seeley said. “There’s action to this board and certain board members that led to this result. I tried to provide this board good representation and will continue to do so on certain matters.”
At the board’s Sept. 7 meeting, when board member Mary Beth Dellinger voiced her concerns regarding the distribution of PET fliers to teachers throughout the school system, Seeley said Washington County Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton followed the law (Tennessee Code Annotated 49-5-606 (4)) by distributing the fliers. He suggested the board send the concern to the board’s policy committee to discuss how the issue should be handled.
At the Oct. 5 meeting, Seeley also mentioned a separate upcoming legal matter; a lawsuit was filed by the Washington County Education Association on behalf of Stacia Howard, the Washington County music teacher whose contract was not renewed after last school year. Seeley said the suit references comments made by Seeley during executive session and that he “believes board members have disclosed information from executive session that assisted in the litigation currently pending against the board”.
Some board members voiced their concerns about hiring another attorney. Seeley said at a previous meeting that the Washington County Commission foots the bill for Seeley and it does not come out of the school board’s budget. The board must use funds from its own budget to pay for other legal representation.
“I do have a problem with spending money that we don’t need to,” school board member Clarence Mabe said at the Nov. 9 meeting. “I think sometimes if it was your money, you wouldn’t do it. I think we need to be a little wiser than that.”
Scott Bennett told the BOE he charges $195 an hour or $4,500 a month. Hammond’s motion opted for the hourly rate.
Having the money to pay for an additional attorney was a concern, but board member Phillip McLain said the school board’s budget contains $13,000 dollars for legal fees which could cover the cost of Bennett’s services.
Halliburton said she might have to hire an attorney to represent her in this matter as well and that fee would also come out of those dollars in the budget. She also said part of that $13,000 will be used in a current ongoing investigation regarding the two David Crockett High School employees who were put on administrative leave back in October.
Board members Annette Buchanan, Mary Beth Dellinger, Keith Ervin, David Hammond and Phillip McLain voted in favor of hiring Bennett to represent the board on the flier complaint. Board members Todd Ganger, Jack Leonard, Clarence Mabe and Mike Masters were opposed.
Leonard voiced his concerns for the board’s financial decision.
“I’ve been in this position for the last two years — that man has been as straight forward as he possibly can and represents us exactly the way we need to be represented. And it doesn’t cost us. We send it to the county commission.
“Now we’re going to take money out of our budget that should be going to the kids or teacher’s salaries or something else. We’re going to be paying for a lawyer that’s in Chattanooga when we have one right here in Jonesborough.”