by Max Brantley
Yes, if you were listening to Channel 4 news, you heard it right.
The Little Rock School Board will meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight to vote on whether it wants representation at the hearing before federal Judge G. Thomas Eisele at 10 a.m. tomorrow and, if so, what that attorney should say.
The hearing is on Superintendent Roy Brooks' federal lawsuit to prevent Board members Katherine Mitchell and Michael Daugherty from, effectively, serving in their elected positions whenever matters before the board concern him. The suit was amended to name the school board after the judge frowned on a suit over a school board suspension hearing Monday night for Brooks that named only Mitchell and Daugherty.
Chip Welch (pictured) has been hired to represent the School Board in holding a suspension hearing for Brooks, but not to represent the Board in the suit against Mitchell and Daugherty. Presumably, Brooks' attorney, or board members supportive of Brooks, will challenge tonight's meeting on procedural grounds. Why should the School Board have a lawyer? That might give Brooks' critics a clear voice in the federal court mess Brooks has created and they certainly don't want that, based on actions so far. Since Brooks' lawyers haven't yet succeeded in disqualifying any board members from their elected service, however, I'm guessing the Board will vote to retain Welch for the hearing tomorrow morning.
UPDATE: The Board voted 5-0 to retain Welch to represent the School Board collectively. Melanie Fox and Larry Berkley abstained. Baker Kurrus, though voting for the motion, restated concerns about rushing the process and a failure of the board to follow policy on calling special meetings and scheduling items for votes. He had said earlier he might retain his own attorney to represent him individually.
Welch will act under the majority's wishes to move ahead with the Brooks suspension hearing Monday night. He had wondered what the Board's response would be should Judge Eisele ask about a willingness to delay the proceeding.
A lightbulb moment: What is the hurry on the suspension hearing, as opposed to say simply presenting the case for firing at the hearing now scheduled at the end of the month? And, again, why not simply buy Brooks out and save the district months of legal wrangling and more divisiveness. (The School Board is civil, but just barely at times. Tension in the room is palpable and the parents who turned out for this meeting, though relatively small in number, were similarly emotionally charged.)
Anyway, here's the theory. A buyout triggers a 90-day notice for Brooks, a three-month period during which he remains as a functioning superintendent. Failure to get him suspended quickly also means Brooks will remain in charge as the deadline passes for notification to district employees of changes in assignment for next year. The suspicion among Brooks supporters is that his critics are spoiling to make wholesale changes in personnel once Brooks is out of the way. It is a suspicion that cannot be dismissed out of hand. Board President Mitchell should directly address that concern. Brooks is one thing. A broader purge is another.