Unretired! Rowe is still superintendent after board learns Open Meetings violation voids resignation, contract

Published 9:21 am Friday, January 6, 2023

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STANFORD – Michael Rowe is still superintendent of Lincoln County Schools, despite giving his resignation in December, due to an Open Meetings violation that forced the new school board to reverse the decision.

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The Lincoln County Board of Education made the decision at its Jan. 5 regular working meeting.

The meeting included the appointment of a new school board attorney for a one-year term. The board selected Grant Chenoweth, with Porter, Banks, Baldwin & Shaw, at a rate of $150 per hour and $75 per hour for paralegal work, plus the government rate for mileage.

Later in the meeting the board voted to go into closed session citing KRS 61.810 (1) (c) to discuss proposed or pending litigation.

Before voting, board member Gloria Sneed made a comment to the new Chairman Bruce Smith about not surrendering her cell phone during closed session, implying that she was asked to during the closed session held Wednesday during a special-called meeting.

“Bruce, I need to say something before we do this. I made a mistake yesterday and I gave you my cell phone, and I’m not giving you my cell phone today,” Sneed said. “It’s right here in my pocket. I need to have the ability to call 911.”

Smith said “OK” and continued to take a roll call vote to go into executive session.

The board remained in closed session for about an hour and returned to open session to hear a recommendation from their new board attorney.

“The action that was taken by the board on Dec. 27 of discussing a resignation and a consultant contract in closed session – I’ll say you’re not the first board to have done that, but other boards have landed in litigation because of having done that,” Chenoweth said. “Specifically, the Supreme Court has just expressly on behalf of another school district, has said those two action items, those two topics, of the independent contractor consulting contract and the superintendent resignation cannot be the topic of closed session.”

The Dec. 27 meeting was held at 1 p.m. and was not live-streamed on YouTube like all other meetings. The school district wrote on Facebook that the meeting was not streamed because “all discussion was done in closed session.”

The meeting agenda cited KRS 61.810 (1) (k), which refers to discussions or hearing which might lead to the appointment, discipline or dismissal of an individual employee, member, or student. The exception does not permit the discussion of general personnel matters in secret.

Upon returning from closed session, the board voted to accept Rowe’s resignation and approved the consulting contract.

Since then, the school board administration has changed as those elected in November, Christine Killen and Marvin Wilson, have been sworn into office.

Chenoweth said any action taken as a result of that Dec. 27 meeting is not a lawful action.

“It just flat out exposes the board to litigation and if we don’t try to correct it promptly then the only way the board can get itself out from under that is potentially for the board to have to file a lawsuit to try to void the contract,” he said.

The attorney recommended the board rescind the consulting agreement and decline Rowe’s resignation and “go back to the drawing board” to find an agreement that is consistent with the Open Meetings Act and Kentucky Supreme Court case law.

The board voted unanimously to rescind the consultant contract and decline Rowe’s resignation.

In other business:

• Elected Etta Meek as Vice Chair. The motion was made by Marvin Wilson and seconded by Christine Killen;

• Judge-Executive Woods Adams presented a proclamation to recognize January as School Board Recognition Month;

• Appointed Lee Ann Smith as Board Treasurer for a one-year term, Colleen Benson as Board Secretary for a one-year term;

• Heard a draft budget report from board treasurer.