WEBSTER COUNTY, KY (1/4/12) – County Attorney Clint Prow, who represented Webster County Clerk Valerie Newell, and Webster County School District Attorney Amelia Zachary spent about an hour in court on Wednesday afternoon before Fifth Judicial Circuit Judge Rene´ Williams debating a challenge Prow filed alleging the district’s legal action against Newell was improper because the board hadn’t actually held a vote to take such action in open session.
It was unclear during the courtroom hearing at the Webster County Courthouse in Dixon whether the board had voted on the action or if the filing of the legal action was made at Webster County School District Superintendent James Kemp’s direction with unofficial support of a majority of the board.
During her presentation before the court, Zachary cited several appellate court cases and attorney general rulings that she claimed defended the position that the board wasn’t required to vote in open session, but Prow argued that almost none of those documents directly addressed his challenge, and that the one that did wasn’t a binding ruling.
“This action was not taken properly. I would submit no action was taken by the (school) board,” Prow said during his argument.
Prow filed the motion seeking to dismiss the court case after reviewing the Webster County Board of Education’s minutes from a meeting in early November where the decision was first reached. Almost all of the meeting took place in closed session under the exceptions to the open meetings act that allow for discussion of potential litigation and contracts. Prow argued that the board didn’t have the right to take a vote on any discussion during closed session, but Zachary disagreed. She said conducting such a vote in public could potentially harm negotiation efforts if the other party in a lawsuit knew which board members supported taking legal action and which didn’t.
Zachary also alleged the motion seeking to dismiss the case was a “frivolous lawsuit,” and called the result of having to reserve notice of the suit through Webster County Sheriff Frankie Springfield a “waste of taxpayer’s money.” She said the notice cost the school district $40.
At the end of the hearing, Judge Williams vacated a scheduled hearing for Jan. 5 and instructed Zachary to file a follow-up brief regarding the motion to dismiss hearing by Friday, Jan. 6. Prow would then have until Friday, Jan. 13 to file his response. A new hearing date of Feb. 2 was set.
The ongoing legal dispute stems from disagreement over whether the correct procedures regarding a public committee’s effort to recall a school board approved six-cent tax for the purpose of construction was correctly followed. Newell certified the petition as successful but the school board disagreed and decided to seek the legal challenge.
If the petition is determined to be valid, the Webster County Board of Education can have the tax put before voters as a referendum question, but unless members wait until the next general election, the school district will be responsible for the cost of a special election. Newell has estimated the cost at between $20,000 and $25,000.
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