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Liddell Offered Superintendent’s Job


Dunn Rehired as Attorney

The Columbus Municipal School District formally chose Interim Superintendent Martha Liddell to become superintendent at a May 31 special meeting.

When the Columbus Municipal School District announced its top candidates for the post, there were originally four: Isaac “Ike” Haynes, superintendent of Jefferson Davis County School District; Dr. Pamela Taylor Henson, director of instructional support for the Baldwin County, Ala., Board of Education; Dr. John G. Ladner, interim superintendent of the Moss Point School District; and Dr. Martha Liddell, interim superintendent of the Columbus Municipal School District.

On May 14, a week before the public interviews were to start, the district announced that Ladner had withdrawn from consideration. Interviews with the remaining three candidates were held as scheduled. The interviews wrapped up May 25, and May 26 the district announced that Henson, too, withdrew her application – the Dispatch reported her withdrawal was due to a death in the family. At that time the board also announced that they had made a decision, and would announce that decision the following week.

Then, May 30, Haynes announced he was withdrawing his application after receiving a pay raise from his current district. Liddell was the sole remaining candidate.

The board met May 31, spending over three hours in executive session to discuss potential litigation and the superintendent’s search. [Several parents attended the meeting, believing that the board would announce their choice for superintendent soon after the meeting began. They had all left by the time the board emerged from executive session. – Brian Jones] When the board returned to open session, President Tommy Prude announced Liddell had been offered the job.

Prude began by correcting what he saw as a misconception in the public.
“Let me make an announcement,” Prude said. “Up until this evening we had not taken a motion to select a permanent superintendent. Even though it might have been reflected in another venue that we did, we have not. When we met recently, we came to a consensus that we were going to bring Dr. Liddell in and discuss a contract and present an offer. That will be done, and we will not have a permanent superintendent until the terms of the contract have been agreed on.”
Glenn Lautzenhiser made a motion to hire Liddell, subject to agreement on a contract. Currie Fisher seconded his motion, and it passed unanimously.

The board then action to retain attorney David Dunn for three more years.

On May 14 the board voted 3-2 to not renew Dunn’s contract because Fisher, Jason Spears and Aubra Turner wanted to solicit proposals from other interested attorneys and compare their prices with Dunn’s. The board apparently voted to renew Dunn’s contract at the May 26 special meeting, but Prude said it needed to be voted on again due to a “clerical error.” [I can’t speak for any other media outlet, but I know the Packet was not informed of this special meeting. Mississippi law only requires that notice of the meeting be posted at the place where the board meeting will be held within one hour of the meeting being called. While the CMSD most likely did so, I have to question how effective this is. How many residents of Columbus swing by Brandon every hour or so to check for meeting announcements? One would think, with all the district’s talk of being transparent and accountable, it would do more than the bare minimum to let its stakeholders know when it’s going to meet, especially when such important discussions – the superintendency, for one – are going to be discussed. – Brian Jones]

“Last Saturday, we had a clerical error that negated the action we took as far as Mr. Dunn’s contract,” Prude said. “We were in error, and we apologize for that error. The action that we took has been negated. It is null and void.”

Prude opened the floor for a motion, and Spears made a motion to rehire Dunn. He was seconded by Lautzenhiser. The vote passed 3-2, with Fisher and Turner voting no.

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1 comment

  1. Brian, I must have missed the “talk of being transparent and accountable”. I have never known the city school board to be transparent and accountable about anything, going all the way back to when CMSD board meetings were open to the public only long enough for the board to go into executive session. If anything was discussed at board meetings, it was by item number and the public never had access to printed agendas so who ever knew what a 5-2 vote on item #3 really was?
    Secrecy is a culture and tradition with boards and commissions in Columbus and the public citizen has no right to know what business is being done in his/her name or how their monies are being spent on what.
    I don’t know about the Packet, but in the past, Birney and the Dispatch were able to get access to meeting agendas for any board or commission in Columbus, but private citizens were too often told there was no such thing; Planning & Zoning, School Board, CL&W board, Civil Service Commission (my pet gripe) for examples.
    Of course, when the Dispatch had the scheduled agendas and topics for the city’s different boards and commissions, only those things Mr. Imes apparently thought the public should know about were included in news articles about whatever happened at the meetings and what the agenda items (such as #1, #2, etc) actually were.
    The former chief is publishing some of the city agendas, but my guess is it is the same as it ever was, most of these groups just don’t either take the time to print their agendas for the attending public to see (and for publishing in advance) or they don’t want the public to know ahead of time what public business will be conducted at these meetings in their name.
    If any Columbus board or commission does publish (through the media) DETAILED agendas, I’d be interested in knowing where to find them. It’s almost impossible to even get meeting times for any of these groups. The last time I called city hall about a meeting time for the civil service commission, I was told they meet whenever they feel like it.

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