The Piedmont Board of Education voted Monday to hire a new girls softball coach, but the Piedmont-Surrey Gazette maintains the board did not follow proper legal procedures in making the hire.
Gazette editor Roger Pugh attempted to object when the motion was made and seconded at the board meeting to accept all of the retirement, resignations, employment and reemployment listed on Attachment A to the board agenda. Included on that attachment were the names of all of the people resigning, retiring, being reemployed, and newly employed, except for one, the name of the teacher/softball coach the board wanted to hire.
As Pugh was attempting to explain his concerns and to ask the board a question about the procedure, board chairman Stanley Nance cut him off.
“We are in the middle of vote here. That’s a personnel matter and you need to take that up with the superintendent,” Nance said.
Nance then conducted the vote, and the board unanimously approved the adoption of schedule A, which included the unnamed coach.
Pugh later said he was trying to advise the board that the hire was not proper because no one was named. He also said he was concerned that the executive session that was held previous to the employment vote might be illegal and if not, certainly violated the spirit of the law because the law says, among other things, a public board is to identify, who is being discussed in executive session.
Immediately following the meeting, Pugh advised Nance and Superintendent James White that he thought there was a problem and he would be seeking a legal opinion.
An attorney who is engaged by the Oklahoma Press Association to advise newspapers on such matters advised the Gazette that the hiring was not proper.
“They did not hire anyone,” the attorney said. They hired blank, because that was who was listed.”
“If I were advising the new coach, I would certainly tell the board I wanted them to call a special meeting or wait until the next regular meeting and go back and put my name in as the person being hired and vote to properly hire me” said the attorney.
“You just can’t leave the name of the person you are hiring out of your vote,” the attorney explained. “If that was the case, the public might find a few weeks later a 10-year old kid running around coaching the team,” he added.
The attorney also said that because the teacher/coach position was listed to be discussed in executive session, although the name was omitted, the board probably did not violate the state’s Open Meeting Act.
“Perhaps the law itself was not broken, but the spirit and intent of the law was ignored,” said Pugh, who over the years as a member and Chairman of the Oklahoma Press Association Legislative Committee, has helped write and amend Open Meeting/Open Records Act to prevent public bodies from taking actions of public interest in secrecy.
After the meeting, White, when asked by Pugh, willingly and immediately gave the name and other information about the new softball coach and teacher.
Pugh said White appeared to be giving an explanation why the new coach’s name was left off the attachment, but finally answered, “on that one we just did it that way,” referring to the omission of the name of the coach hire.
White earlier fired popular head softball coach Rick Scott and his supporters have expressed great displeasure at his dismissal.
“I sure hope this omission was not to try to avoid controversy, or slip something by because I have more respect for Mr. White and the school board members than to want to believe that is the case.
“They just need to know, as best we can, we will do our job and call them out if we think they are wrong. That’s our job,” said Pugh.
“I hope the board will go back in and do this right so there is no problem for anyone down the road,” said Gazette Publisher Randy Anderson.