MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) - A Bibb County judge is trying to determine if the school board followed protocol when voting to renew the superintendent's contract.
After hours of testimony in court from Bibb School Board members and staff, Superior Court Judge Ed Ennis decided he needs to review certain pieces of evidence. The hearing was for a lawsuit Bibb County parent Thomas DeFore filed against the district, saying the board didn't properly notify the public that they would be voting on Dallemand's contract renewal back in December. Back then, the board voted 5-3 to renew the contract.
Attorney Charles Cox, who represents DeFore, says board president Tommy Barnes' motion to approve the contract didn't match up with the actual terms of the contract, and so the contract renewal should be voided. Interim board president Susan Sipe testified she still has the draft of the contract they discussed in executive session in e-mail format on her home computer. Judge Ennis will review that document and compare it with Barnes' verbal motion, to see if the terms match up.
"I think the judge is making a decision based on all the evidence," says Cox. "I think he has an obligation to look at all the evidence. Once he looks at the law as it applies to what the evidence is, I feel very confident we will prevail in this; I just think it's crystal clear that the board has violated the Open Meetings Act with their vote."
The suit alleges the vote violated that act by not notifying the public of the possibility of a vote. Then-board president Tommy Barnes told the judge he knew the board would discuss the contract in the December 3rd meeting, and that he told board members a vote could happen on any meeting between November 26th and the end of the year.
The defendants waived executive session privelege during the hearing, which would have prevented them from discussing items that came up in closed-door meetings. With everything out in the open, Barnes, interim board president Susan Sipe and board attorney Patrick Millsaps were able to disclose key points during their December 3rd executive session, after which Barnes motioned to vote on the contract.
This is where the evidence comes in. The plaintiff's attorney says there is a discrepancy between Barnes' reading of the motion on December 3rd--in which he read certain terms of the contract that had been changed, which 5 of the board members approved--and the minutes taken of the December 3rd meeting, where those terms were specified. Cox argued since the minutes were approved on December 20th, the verbal motion, which differs from the minutes and the actual terms of the contract, is null and void.
When Ennis asked board attorney Patrick Millsaps, theoretically, the reason behind such a discrepancy, he replied, "A mistake."
Lawyers representing the school board were pleased with the judge's decision to review the draft of the contract, not the minutes, and Barnes' motion recorded on an mp3 file.
"From the school district's perspective, all of the school members voted on a document they clearly understood, I don't think there's any dispute about that."
Newly elected board member Jason Downey also testified the board violated policy by not inviting he and then-board member-elect Lester Miller to participate in the discussion on Dallemand's contract renewal. If they had, the final outcome of the vote would have been different.
Another hearing on the matter will be held Friday, February 8th.