Board conflict returns in PAISD

Published 10:05 pm Thursday, December 14, 2006

By Ashley Sanders

The News staff writer

Absent from several recent Port Arthur ISD Board of Trustees meetings, board member Julia Samuels returned to her seat on the school board Thursday night with a number of concerns for the school district.

Taking the podium as a citizen during the public participation portion of the meeting, Samuels told trustees that she wanted to speak as a “citizen and a taxpayer” rather than a trustee.

PAISD’s interim attorney Tanner Hunt with Wells, Peyton, Greenburg and Hunt L.L.P. said it was acceptable for Samuels to leave her post as a trustee and speak to the governing body as a citizen — as long as she followed the rules stipulated by the district with regard to public speaking.

“I am concerned that the majority board does not dialogue enough during the meetings,” Samuels said during her address of the trustees. “We should let the public know what we do when we are voting on an item.”

Samuels continued her speech by criticizing the amount of money spent on attorney fees since the re-hiring of the law firm Wells, Peyton, Greenburg and Hunt in June of this year.

“We have spent more than $100,000 in attorney fees since June,” she said. “That is far more than the $45,000 spent on attorney fees all of last year.”

Other items on Samuels’ list of concerns included the direction of the Head Start program, the future plans for a new Memorial High School and the possibility that some trustees were meeting outside the parameters of board meetings.

As the night wore on, Samuels returned to her seat as a board member, but continued to voice her concerns about certain district matters.

Item one — the wording of a plaque for the new Wheatley Early Childhood Center — which is scheduled to open Jan. 17.

The future plaque will list the names of the trustees seated during the groundbreaking for the school in 2005 and the presently seated trustees, as well as the name of former Superintendent Willis Mackey and present PAISD Superintendent Johnny Brown.

“My name is not listed as board president,” Samuels said after discussion on the plaque lingered for more than 10 minutes. “Where are our ethics?”

“When will this vindictiveness stop,” Samuels asked Board President Willie Mae Elmore. “I will not lose one night’s sleep over this matter. But, I want to know how many times you will use your majority influence to be board president? Fifty-five times?”

With discussion ceased following Samuels’ question, trustees voted 6-1, with Samuels casting the dissenting vote, to approve the wording on the new plaque.

Finally, during the final moments of the meeting, Samuels addressed possible action items that she had placed on the agenda, including the hiring of a separate law firm to represent her and the request for the district to pay for her attorney retainer fees.

Samuels said she did not want the law firm of Wells, Peyton, Greenburg and Hunt to represent her in any future litigation because they did not adequately represent her to the Texas Education Agency during the time she said she was investigated for being the “Traveling Trustee.”

“Would the hiring of a separate attorney not increase the legal fees that you say this board is already absorbing,” Trustee Kenneth Marks asked of Samuels.

Samuels response to Marks was that “no trustee should be left out in the cold.”

After several minutes of discussion on the feasibility of Samuels’ discussion item, trustees voted down her request for separate legal council in a 5-1 vote.

In district news, Brown announced Thursday night that he has re-assigned a number of district employees to “further the leadership of PAISD” in a positive manner.

Two of those appointments include moving MHS Principal Raymond Polk from the high school to Edison Middle School and shifting Sharon Dozier-Davis to an interim principal position at MHS.