Details of letter receive scrutiny
When the Selma City School Board voted early Wednesday to terminate the contract of superintendent of education Dr. Donald Jefferson, they did so under a provision of Jefferson’s contract that severed his employment without pay.
That point became a little less clear Wednesday afternoon when board president Henry Hicks Sr., who opposed the action against Jefferson, issued a letter to the system’s chief financial officer Grindal Harris, ordering her to “take no action to discontinue the pay of Dr. Donald Jefferson until a court of law determines who the lawful superintendent is.”
The letter, which was obtained through a Freedom of Information request by The Selma Times-Journal, was sent by Hicks on Selma City Schools letterhead to interim superintendent Gerald Shirley and copied to members of the school board, Harris, the system’s payroll clerk Daisy Williams and Dr. Craig Pouncey with the Alabama Department of Education.
But, according to the Alabama Association of School Boards and the school board’s attorney Katy Campbell, Hicks, as one member of the board, does not have the legal authority to direct any action.
“We are aware of the letter Mr. Hicks has sent to Selma’s Central Office staff and his directive to the CSFO. Alabama Code §16-11-5 , which dictates the authority of city boards of education states that ‘no motion or resolution shall be declared adopted without the concurrence of the majority of the whole board,’” Alabama Association of School Boards executive director Sally Howell said. “As you know, Mr. Hicks is merely one member.
“No one member — or two members — has the authority to bind the board to action. Therefore, his letter has no effect.”
When asked whether or not Harris had received the letter from Hicks on Wednesday, interim superintendent Gerald Shirley said he believed she did, but had not discussed the matter with her yet.
Campbell said she too had received the letter and again stressed that Hicks did not have any authority as a single member of the board to tell Grindal or any member of the school system what “to do or not do.”
Hicks said Thursday evening his involvement in the process was doing “what he perceived to be the right thing to do.”
“I am following what I perceive that to be and following the advice of other attorneys,” Hicks said. “At this point, I believe the best place for this to be resolved is in the courts and have the board step away from this and our attorney, Mrs. Campbell step away from this.”
In the letter, Hicks reiterates his opposition to the board’s decision Wednesday and tells Shirley “I still maintain that you are not legally in the interim or acting position of superintendent and have no authority to perform any acts on behalf of the Selma City Board of Education.”
It is that opinion, and Hicks’ attempts Tuesday evening to overturn the board’s vote on Oct. 13 to place Jefferson on administrative leave and announcing the hearing to terminate his contract, where Howell said Hicks — in the association’s view — overstepped his legal authority.
“A majority of the whole board voted to terminate Dr. Jefferson’s contract. As in any vote, it does not matter if the vote is less than unanimous, nor does it matter if the board president disagrees,” Howell said. “Therefore, the board has spoken, even if some individual members of the board are unhappy with that outcome.”
Howell also said it appears now the best route for resolution in this matter lies in the courts.