Board asks chairman to step down
Clif Knight, Hartselle Enquirer
Questions over how the details of the new superintendent's contract were released to the public has led four school board members to call for the resignation of the groups's chairman.
However, Hartselle School Board chairman Ronnie Abercrombie refused to resign his position after being asked to do so at a regular meeting held last Thursday night.
The move was initiated by board member Jeff Gray after fellow members Kathy White Goodwin and Dr. Andy Dukes questioned Abercrombie on how contract negotiations between Abercrombie, vice chairman Greg Cain, board attorney Bill Shinn and candidate Dr. Mike Reed of Greenville were handled.
Abercrombie, Cain and Shinn were authorized by the board to proceed with contract negotiations with Reed after he was chosen as superintendent Jan. 27. It was stipulated that the proposed contract would come back to the board for consideration and approval.
Both Goodwin and Dukes said they were concerned because some of the terms of the proposed contract were published in a daily newspaper before they knew about them. They also said the contract was signed without the board's authorization.
"Something this important should not have been released to the newspaper without us being aware of it," Goodwin said. "I feel this was a breach of confidence and did not show respect for other board members."
"The problem was we read about it in the paper and we did not know anything about it. The contract negotiations should have been held in confidence," he said.
After the meeting, Abercrombie said he was not the source of the information in the newspaper article. Abercrombie said he and Cain signed the contract at the request of Reed.
"He asked for a signed contract. He said it would help facilitate a request to his board for an early release. He knew it was not legal and binding until it was approved by the board," he said.
"What we signed on Friday was an indication to his board that we were in agreement on the contract," Cain added.
In spite of the questions, Reed's contract as approved by the board on a 4-0-1 vote, with Goodwin abstaining.
The approval didn't end the acrimony, however.
Gray said he still had concerns about the manner in which the contract was handled.
"As a board member, I was very upset to see the terms of a proposed contract with Dr. Reed printed in last Thursday's The Decatur Daily, even before the board as a whole had the opportunity to review the contract," he said. "I was also upset to see in the same paper several days later a quote attributed to one of our other board members regarding the terms of the contract. I was told later by that board member that he never made the quote.
"The chairman of the board, in my opinion, is held to a higher standard of conduct than a regular board member. He does not represent just himself; he represents the other four board members and the entire school system."
Gray said he knew the board couldn't force Abercrombie to resign.
"What I'm doing may be like a scorpion without a stinger-just showing my tail. But I think you should resign as chairman of the board," he said.
Dukes said he thought Abercrombie should resign because he had lost the trust of his fellow members.
"Trust in each other is important to this board and that trust has been violated here," Dukes said.
Abercrombie said the board doesn't have the authority to remove him as chairman and he intends to finish his term. Abercrombie's term ends in June.
"I won't step down. I haven't done anything wrong," he said. "When I took the job I did so with the intention of keeping it until at least next June. At that time, the board will decide who the chairman will be. I don't appreciate the comments you have made."
The board did agree to appoint an interim superintendent to serve from when Dr. Hartsell leaves on March 1 until Dr. Reed starts later in the school year.
Dr. Hartsell said board policy provides for Bobbie Long, director of elementary and secondary education, to serve in that capacity his absence.