School board’s attorney discussion becomes heated

Published 3:05 pm Thursday, September 23, 2021

School board’s attorney discussion becomes heated

The Clark County Schools Board of Education voted to proceed with interviews for legal counsel on Tuesday, but not without controversy.

The 3-2 vote illustrated a split on the board regarding the future of Winchester law firm Grant, Rose and Pumphrey – represented by Brian Thomas – as the board’s counsel.

In February, Thomas brought to light allegations that board member Sherry Richardson may have committed an ethics violation by voting to approve payments to Rising Sun Development for work done on the George Rogers Clark Athletic Complex. The payments are alleged to have indirectly benefited her family’s overhead door business when Rising Sun purchased $85,000 worth of materials and services from it for the project.

After an internal investigation, Thomas reported the allegations to the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office, whose investigation is currently ongoing.

Richardson shocked some board members and Thomas when she made the motion for it to advertise for legal services during its Aug. 16 meeting, and on Monday, she voted to move the process forward.

“If we have people who are uncomfortable, then we need the opportunity to interview, and we’ve got the ball rolling, so let’s proceed and start the interviews,” Richardson said.

Brenda Considine joined Richardson in supporting the motion.

“I do want to interview. I feel like, that to me, that I do have questions that I would like to ask since they [the Board attorney] are representing me,” Considine said.

Megan Hendricks also agreed that interviews are needed.

“I think we have a negative energy that is surrounding our board, and I think it would be prudent for us to maybe do some interviews,” Hendricks said.

Board Chair Ashlie Ritchie opposed the motion and was confused why other board members wanted to consider bids where legal counsel would only be called in as needed.

“Why would you not want a board attorney at every meeting?” Ritchie questioned. “You’ve seen how complicated things get into.”

Richardson replied to Ritchie that other school districts do not have an attorney present at every board meeting. Superintendent Molly McComas said that her previous employer, Scott County Schools, did not.

Board Vice Chair Bill Taulbee also opposed the motion and openly questioned its motive, which was initially made to ensure the school district was competitive in pricing for legal services.

“I think it is self-serving,” Taulbee said in a comment directed at Richardson. “With everything that came to light last week in the news and in the articles, it is pretty evident what this motion is about.”

Richardson said Taulbee was playing judge and jury.

“I am sitting here on trial, and you are leading the trial, and I am asking you to back off and not judge me,” she said.

At the beginning of the meeting, Taulbee requested that Richardson recuse herself from future board meetings until she is no longer under investigation.

Richardson refused.

“My personal attorney has told me that I am in good standing until a ruling has been made,” she said

McComas and Thomas individually verified that the law firm is still employed as the board’s legal counsel.

To remove them, the board must vote to accept another bid for counsel. It must then pass a motion to terminate the firm’s services and give it 30 days notice.

McComas said in a phone conversation with the Sun that it is not unusual for a board of education to conduct interviews while the school district still employs a specific attorney or law firm. Some school districts often have more than one person or firm representing them, she said.

Besides Thomas’ firm, Mount Sterling attornies Rebecca McCoy and Michelle Williams submitted a bid, as did First Assitant Clark County Attorney R. Mitchell Berryman.

McComas said the board hopes to begin interviews at a special-called meeting next Monday, but was still working out the specifics with the candidates.