Meeting’s purpose unclearBy PAT BROWN,
The purpose of a special called meeting of the Simpson County School District board Monday afternoon was unclear even to board members.
The notice sent to the newspaper stated as the reason “for Interview of Greg Paes for consideration of Superintendent appointment.”
But when it came time for the meeting, school board members themselves seemed confused as to the purpose for the meeting, whether for interviewing Paes for the position of interim superintendent at the end of this year before a final decision on a permanent superintendent or to discuss the possibility of having Paes as an interim.
There is a specific difference between the two issues. The board through their attorney contends that if Paes is interested in being hired for the job, it does not matter that he is currently an elected superintendent, that he should be considered as an applicant and the board can go into executive session to discuss the matter in private--despite the fact that going into executive session is optional in all situations with the exception of a hearing involving children.
Board member Danny Cowart said the issue at hand is “a matter of semantics,” as to determining whether the meeting was for an interview or discussion about the job. He stated that he felt that the discussion of Paes should be executive session material.
The law clearly states that executive session is an exemption to open meeting laws; “Exemptions are not mandatory. They are discretionary.” Mississippi Code 25-41-7.
The board opted to have the meeting despite the stated objection of board members Stan Bulger and Lillie Hardy. The attorney advised that if the meeting were not for an interview as announced it should be canceled. The board agreed to meet anyway. The discussion then became whether the meeting should be closed.
Meetings of publicly elected boards may only be closed to the public for specific reasons. These include someone’s performance, their health and/or their personal records. Cowart still wanted the meeting closed. Other board members said their questions were germaine to the proceedings and opted to have the meeting open.
Prior to this the school board has presented no public discussion at a meeting nor released any information to the public as to the course of action they were planning to pursue to meet the new state requirement that all school superintendents be appointed, at least to the knowledge of this newspaper. The paper has inquired into their intentions for filling the position and no school board member has released any information as to what the board’s plans are or were.
However, during Monday’s meeting it was reported that Dr. Mike Waldrop, executive director of the Mississippi School Boards Association, had told the local board that it would be a reasonable option to appoint the current superintendent as an interim until a suitable replacement could be hired. This suggestion, however, has not been released to the public.
Regarding using executive session, school board attorney Wesla Leech said that “all schools across the state” are using executive session to interview existing superintendents.
However, according to research, only 60 school districts of the 151 districts in the State of Mississippi even have elected superintendents. The majority have already gone to the appointment system.
As a part of Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Paes had been asked to present his case for why he should be considered as an interim superintendent until a final hire is made. In his remarks, he pointed to the improvements which have been made during his tenure and spoke of his knowledge of the workings of the school district. He presented a very compelling presentation as to why he was best suited for the job.
Some members of the public who attended the meeting asked to make comments. Leech advised that public comment was not part of the approved agenda and therefore would not be appropriate. Questions and comments from the public were not accepted.
The board then made a motion to go into executive session for the discussion of Paes for the position of superintendent, according to their position that he was applying for the post, which would qualify his consideration under the personnel exemption, providing they chose to request the exemption.
At the completion of the executive session, Attorney Leech said the board took no actions.