By Greg Bird
In a tense and sometimes antagonistic meeting of the McCreary County Board of Education Monday night, the Board officially accepted the resignation of Tim Crawford and appointed new legal council – local attorney John Blevins.
The issue over the resignation came to a head last week after Board member Deborah Gibson posted comments on her Facebook page accusing the Board Chair and Superintendent of forcing Crawford out.
Before discussion began in earnest concerning the resignation, Gibson reiterated claims she made last week concerning her perceived mistreatment over the issue at the hands of Board Chair Dustin Stephens. The Board’s vice-chair contends Stephens discussed the issue of removing Crawford as attorney without her knowledge and maintained that she was only informed of the possibility of discussions regarding hiring a new attorney a few hours before Crawford resigned.
Stephens said he asked his fellow Board members, including Gibson, their opinion on the possibility, and denied any back-room negotiations took place.
“There was no discussion, it was hidden,” Gibson stated. “I have been abused, cussed at, I have been threatened by Mr. Stephens. I was willfully, intentionally left out of the discussion.”
Board member Nelda Gilreath stated that she had received a call concerning her opinion from Stephens, but steadfastly objected to the notion that there was any secret deal.
“I’m personally hurt to be accused of meeting behind closed doors,” she said.
Fellow Board member Lori Foster stated she was “made aware” at the last Board meeting that Stephens had spoken with other Board members, excluding Gibson about the issue and was under the impression that he had three votes in favor of hiring a new attorney.
Stephens denied any accusations of impropriety and defended his actions, noting he contacted the Kentucky School Boards Association and Office of Educational Accountability, who confirmed his actions were correct and legal.
Following the discourse, the Board voted to accept Crawford’s resignation and attention turned toward hiring a new legal council.
Stephens informed the Board that three potential candidates had submitted applications for the position: Winter Huff of Monticello, John Blevins a Corbin attorney with an office in Whitley City (Blevins & Baird), and Mike Owsley, of Bowling Green firm English, Lucas Priest & Owsley. Foster also noted that Larry Bryson – who along with Huff had represented the Board at one point – expressed an interest in submitting an application.
When Blevins’ name was mentioned, Stephens noted that he, admittedly, had no experience in conducting legal matters related to a school district.
“You never learn if you don’t get hired,” Gilreath interjected. Foster and Gibson agreed with the sentiment.
Blevins, who was in attendance at the meeting, stated he would work for less than the Board’s previous attorney and was capable of learning school law once retained. He noted special training is available to attorneys once they are hired by a district and had at least two close friends who were versed in school law who he felt could give him advice if needed.
“I’ll do what it take to prove myself,” he said.
Gilreath stated she felt the Board Attorney does not always need to attend meetings if there is no need for legal council – noting the extra expense.
“If we need them, they need to be here,” she said. “But if we don’t need them, then we shouldn’t be paying them.”
Gibson forwarded the motion to hire Blevins, with Foster seconding. The vote passed 4-1 with only Stephens voting against. Blevins supposedly will work on an “as-needed” basis, only being consulted when a legal question arises.
Following the vote Stephens noted the Board could have two attorneys, as they once had a few years ago, and made a motion to also retain Mike Owsley, noting he felt the District could be put at risk without having an experienced attorney.
Gibson and Foster strongly objected to the proposal, questioning the need for the extra expense, and fears that Stephens would bypass Blevins for Owsley.
King seconded the motion to bring the matter to a vote. While Stephens and King voted in favor, Gibson and Foster voted against and Gilreath abstained – killing the motion.
Superintendent Corey Keith was asked to comment on the hiring and issued the following statement:
“The hiring of a Board Attorney is a duty of the School Board,” he said. “I absolutely respect that right and their decision. I enjoyed meeting Mr. Blevins and appreciate that he is a McCreary Countian. I look forward to working with him.”
“However, I do hope that the Board will consider hiring an additional attorney who is an expert in the area of school law. Some school districts have such an arrangement – a local attorney who handles some matters and a ‘specialist’ for more education-specific issues. School law is broad and complex, with many sections of the Kentucky Revised Statutes devoted solely to it.”
“Also, having a 2nd attorney who is out of county could be an advantage should a local situation arise that could present a potential conflict of interest. My views on this are through my lens as a longtime educator and administrator. Again, this is no slight toward Mr. Blevins. He is certainly a sharp fellow with a deep love for and connection to McCreary County Schools. I respect that. I look forward to a good working relationship with him.”
The meeting ended on another sour note as Gibson requested the next meeting be scheduled a week earlier, due to a prior engagement on the September 23 date. The Board took no action, tabling the motion until all Board members could check their schedules for availability on the proposed new date.
Gibson stated she felt it was a lack of respect from the Board not to consider accommodating her request.
The Board could call a special meeting for the evening Gibson requested, September 16 to handle agenda items. But, until that occurs, the next meeting is scheduled for September 23, at 6:30 p.m.
In other Board actions Monday night the Board heard public comments on several issues.
Chairman Stephens noted he was limiting public comments to five minutes to prevent the meeting from going over long and “getting off track.” He stated the Board’s policy allowed him to implement the rule, following Robert’s Rules of Order, but the decision to do so did not sit well with some of the Board and public.
Citizen Brian Kiser had concerns over the moving of the elementary basketball K-2 basketball league to the Lord’s Gym, operated by Board member Braxton King. It was noted the league is an intramural event, and will include students from both Whitley City and Pine Knot and serve as an instructional event. King stated the gym is non-profit, and he sees no financial benefit, adding if the schools wanted to sell concessions as a fundraiser, he had no issues with it. Additionally, he mentioned, the gym had history hosting similar school leagues.
Stephanie Spradlin asked about getting an air conditioning unit placed in the girl’s softball locker room. Superintendent Keith stated an air unit was planned to be installed in the facility.
Laura Lewis asked about an incident involving a pre-school child who reportedly was “mis-placed” on a school bus last week. Transportation Director Stuart Shepherd reported the child was not mis-placed, but fell asleep on the bus, and the aide on the bus did not know the name of the child when radio calls went out to locate the missing student. He said the issue has been addressed and all drivers and aides have been advised to follow protocol when loading and unloading students from busses to prevent further incidents.
School Board sets tax rate
During Monday’s meeting of the McCreary County Board of Education the Board took steps to set their tax rates for the coming year
Superintendent Corey Keith noted the increase in the overall property assessment in the County allowed the Board to adopt the compensating rate offered by the Department of Revenue – meaning the Board could adopt a lower rate and still generate approximately the same amount of taxes as they did the previous year. The tax rate on real property was lowered by 0.5 cents per $100 of value to 40.4.
Though the overall value of tangible property decreased, the Board voted to keep the same rate as last year, 41.1 cents per $100 of value, and kept the motor vehicle tax rate the same as well – 3-percent.