BY BRIAN JONES
The Columbus Municipal School Board met again June 11 to discuss the fate of embattled Superintendent Martha Liddell. After 58 seconds in open session, the board retreated behind closed doors for nearly four hours before announcing that no action had been taken and adjourning.
Liddell and her attorney, Austin Voller of Starkville, were not present in the boardroom while the meeting was underway. Assistant Superintendent Craig Shannon was called in for about an hour.
The meeting was the third special meeting in as many weeks, with a May 28 meeting stretching for nearly four hours and a June 5 meeting for nearly three.
Tuesday night’s meeting was heavily attended by the public, many of whom were members of the city’s black community. Local attorneys Wilbur Colom, Scott Colom, Rhonda Hayes-Ellis and Monique Montgomery, Jabari Edwards, Leonard Dickerson, Greg Lewis, Steve Jamison, Darren Leach, Councilman-elect Marty Turner, Nadia Dale and Kamal Karriem, among others, were all in attendance at some point in the evening. Local community organizations represented included the NAACP, 100 Black Women, the District Congress of the Northeast Mississippi State Convention, pastors of several prominent churches and Dream 365.
[It was hard to get an accurate head count because people were coming and going all night, but at its peak about 45 people were present. Many were overt supporters of Dr. Liddell, and were overheard to describe the Commercial Dispatch’s recent crusade against her as a “witch hunt” and as “slander.” (I disagree, but that’s a subject for a different day.) Quite a few others did not have a clear stance, and described themselves as merely curious. All of them were dismayed by the length of the meeting, and many stated that they believed it to be an attempt to wait them out. I don’t believe this myself – I’ve seen the CMSD board operate for too many years – but even so, it was effective. By the time the board returned to open session only about 15 citizens remained.
[Based on what I saw and heard Tuesday night, I think I speak for everyone when I say it is high time for the board to take some visible action. They have spent something like eight hours cloistered behind closed doors. How much more can they beat a dead horse? Sadly, I suspect quite a bit. – Brian Jones] Prior to Tuesday’s meeting the district released conflicting statements about its subject. An email sent out June 10 tersely stated “the CMSD Board of Trustees will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, June 11 at 5:30 p.m. at the Brandon Central Services Center.” A second message, sent the day of the meeting at 4:12 p.m., implied that Liddell would not be the subject under discussion: “The Board of Trustees of the Columbus Municipal School District has scheduled a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. on June 11, 2013, at Brandon Central Services in the Parent-Teacher Training room. The Special Meeting is called to discuss a personnel matter and is not to discuss job performance of any CMSD employee.” A third message was sent at 4:45 and was considerably more vague: “The Board of Trustees of the Columbus Municipal School District has scheduled a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. on June 11, 2013, at Brandon Central Services in the Parent-Teacher Training room. The Special Meeting is called to discuss a personnel matter.”
Liddell has been under the microscope since a series of articles in the Commercial Dispatch alleged that she spent taxpayer dollars on a private party and that her private grant-writing business is a violation of her contract with the district.