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CMSD Fires Hughes — “Transparent” District Holds Special Meetings without Notice

Staff Writer

The Columbus Municipal School District has fired longtime Business Manager Ken Hughes.
Hughes, who has been with the district for nearly two decades, was unceremoniously fired last week.
Sources inside the district have told The Packet that Superintendent Martha Liddell took it upon herself to fire Hughes, and the trustees learned of his termination after the fact.
Under Mississippi law Hughes was an at-will employee, and may be terminated at any time with no explanation.
The termination will be on the agenda for next week’s board meeting.
 [I was shocked to learn of Mr. Hughes’s firing over the weekend.  My first ever assignment as a working reporter in Columbus was a March 15, 1999, CMSD board meeting.  As you might expect from a typically clueless rookie, I had a lot of questions, and many of them ended up being aimed at Mr. Hughes.  His willingness to explain the at-times arcane workings of a government budget to someone who was clearly out of his element impressed me.  Over the years Mr. Hughes never lost that willingness to answer my more than occasionally inane questions, and I was always grateful for that.
    [The Dispatch reported that Mr. Hughes was fired, and the locks to his office were changed, while he was out of town.  If this is true, it seems to be an especially cheap shot.
    [With that being said, Mr. Hughes was often on the hot seat at recent board meetings.  The trustees have been asking increasingly pointed questions about spending and Mr. Hughes often seemed at a loss to answer them, protesting that the district’s accounting software was unable to deliver the specific breakdowns they asked for.  I can’t help but wonder if this played into his eventual downfall.
    [Unless Mr. Hughes files a lawsuit – which is not out of the question – I doubt that we will ever know the reasons why.  It’s a personnel matter, and therefore the district doesn’t have to answer any questions about it.  It will be interesting to see what the trustees have to say Monday night.
    [While I’m on the subject of the CMSD, I’d also like to point out that the “transparent” and “accountable” powers-that-be within the district held a special meeting May 1 to discuss personnel issues.  No notice of the meeting was given to any of the local media.
    [Under Mississippi law, they are only required to post notice at the board’s usual meeting place within one hour of a meeting being called.  In the CMSD’s case, these notices are usually taped up on the glass doors at the front of the Brandon Central Services building.  How many stakeholders – those people the district tries so darn hard to serve ably and in a forthright manner – just happen to swing by the central office on an hourly basis to see if a meeting has been called?  I would make an educated guess that the number would be zero.  Whether the district likes the way it is covered or not, the news media is the best way to alert their constituents of upcoming meetings.  Many more people are going to see The Packet, the Dispatch or The Real Story than are going to see the front door at Brandon.
    [To show her deep and abiding concern with keeping the public informed about the goings-on at the CMSD, Dr. Liddell hired a public information officer.  He does a fine job of sending out press releases via email.  I routinely get several from him a week about school plays, concerts, strategic planning sessions, etc.  I don’t know that I have ever gotten a special meeting notice.  I certainly didn’t get one for last week’s meeting.
    [Sunday the Dispatch gave a thorn to the CMSD for an April 26 special meeting that, once again, was not noticed to the media.  Not only did the district not give the media notice, the board agenda is not available on Board Book, the district’s vaunted means of making agendas and agenda packets public.
    [One week.  Two special meetings.  Zero meeting notices.  
    [The great American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. once said, “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.”  I can always count on the CMSD for a good laugh. – Brian Jones]


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