BY JEFF CLARK
One day after the Columbus Municipal School District Board of Trustees voted to fire Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell, some community members and elected officials had questions for the trustees in regards to Liddell’s contract termination, lengthy executive sessions and an alleged lack of transparency.
Lowndes County NAACP President Lavonne Harris, who was accompanied by local ministers Kamal Karriem and Darren Leach, expressed her frustrations with the school board to the council and Mayor Robert Smith during Tuesday’s council meeting.
“The community is totally upset with the conduct of the school board,” Harris said during the citizens input portion of the meeting. “We want to know when the focus is going to come back on our children? This is about educating our kids. When are we going to do something about our children. We have no superintendent. What are we going to do now?”
The vote to terminate the remainder of Liddell’s contract with the school district occurred during the regular June meeting of the CMSD board Monday night. The board discussed Liddell and her job performance in a nearly five-hour-long executive session before she was fired on a 3-2 vote.
“The last three sessions have been going into executive session for four-and-a-half hours,” Kamal Karriem said. “There has been no public forum at the meetings.”
Leach said the school board needs to be challenged on its accountability.
“We don’t know who holds them accountable for following their own procedures,” Leach said. “I understand they made a decision (Monday night). They made the decision — we’re fine with it. But as we go forward, there’s going to be another person in that position and that person can’t expect them to follow their policies. Who holds them accountable?”
Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem, who has children who attend school in the district, said it has not been made clear why Liddell was fired.
“I share the same sentiments,” Kabir Karriem said. “I’ve been getting calls all day because of the lack of transparency from the school board. I don’t know what happened or why it happened and I’ve been trying to get some answers.”
The council appoints a school board member on a rotating schedule once a year. The appointee serves a five-year term. Angela Verdell, who voted against Liddell’s firing, was the most recent member appointed by the council. She was appointed in February.
Smith said board appointments are the only way the city can remove board members.
“We are concerned,” Smith said. “We will address the school board. I have received calls also. Some of the calls were asking how can we remove school board members. You can get an AG’s opinion and there are only two ways you can remove a school board member — one is if the member comes of an unsound mind; the other is if that person commits a crime.”
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box said the council has no governing authority over the school board.
“The school board is completely autonomous,” Box said. “We tried this a few years ago when we tried to have a discussion with them about their budget. They are completely autonomous.”
City Attorney Jeff Turnage agreed with Box, saying the board is a completely different branch of government.
“They are a separate branch of government,” Turnage said. “They are an executive branch and the city council is a legislative branch. We can’t intermeddle in a different branch of government. But you can ask questions.”
Kabir Karriem said the citizens have a right to know what happened, again chastising the board for a lack of transparency.
“A superintendent has been fired,” he said. “They can’t keep taking their business into executive session. We have a duty to find out the answers to these questions that have been put before us.”
“Just from reading the paper, it was vague why Dr. Martha Liddell was fired,” Smith added.