RH legal costs top #036;82,000; growing

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 29, 2004

A citizens' group says it has 82,275 reasons to be angry with some members of the Rock Hill Local Board of Education.

More than two months after citizens cried foul at the board president's unwillingness to disclose details of the legal bill incurred in ousting longtime superintendent Lloyd Evans, the paperwork was delivered to the district office this week.

The eight statements, totaling $82,275.07, for legal services provided by the Columbus law firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, LLP, were delivered by the board president's husband on Wednesday.

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"On numerous times individuals had asked, 'What is this costing our school district,'" said former board member Rich Donohue, late last week. "And they were told, 'Well, I don't know.'"

"I don't think (some members of the board) were forthcoming and provided the information for the people who were living in the community," he said, pointing to one of the invoices. "That's addressed to the president of the board."

Donohue said he is the spokesman for a group of "several hundred" citizens in the Rock Hill district who are upset over the issue. The group calls itself Citizens Against Poor Spending, he said.

The statements, which provide no detail as to specifically what services were provided, appear to have been sent monthly since the work began in January.

The invoices are addressed to board president Lavetta Sites' home address.

"That would certainly be unusual," said Rick Dickinson, general counsel for the Ohio School Boards Association. "Those would usually be sent to the district."

Rock Hill Board Treasurer Chris Robinson described having bills sent directly to a board member as "fairly unusual," adding that "any invoice should be addressed to the board of education here."

Robinson said in his approximately 12 years with the district, he was unaware of invoices ever being mailed to an individual board member.

Robinson said he was unsure whether or not the district had signed a contract with the firm because the standard procedure for contracts was that the board president, superintendent and treasurer sign all contracts.

"I have not signed it," he said. "Nor have I seen one."

In fact, he said the paperwork brought to him last week was the first documents he had seen from the firm.

The Rock Hill Board of Education in a split vote agreed in January to allow Sites to interview prospective legal counsel. Three of the five board members, Site, Paul Johnson and Wanda Jenkins agreed that the board needed to seek its own legal counsel.

The district already had legal counsel to represent the entire district.

The legal services were sought prior to the three board members' decision to non-renew Superintendent Evans' contract.

Evans' contract was extended by the previous board in November 2003, after the school board election, but prior to the new board taking office.

The majority of the new board felt such an extension violated a then relatively new state law because a full 60 days' notice was not given.

Evans disputes that fact and sued the new school board. The case is still pending in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.

In mid-August, with the start of school nearing, the Rock Hill Board voted again to remove Evans from office, named Lawrence County Schools Superintendent Harold Shafer as acting Rock Hill superintendent and then temporarily relinquished daily oversight of the district to the county school board until the Rock Hill board hires a new superintendent.

Donohue said that move is what led to the formation of the Citizens Against Poor Spending.

"I didn't really get involved until they said, 'We're going to vacate power,'" Donohue said. "The big thing that got me going was Š you've got elected officials that chose to vacate their jobs and turn their authority over to another board.

"Being a former board member, I took the heat and I didn't back down. I think that if you're elected to do a job that it just comes with the territory.

"(But) the issue right now is the money that has been spent and why the invoices have been held," Donohue said.

Numerous attempts to reach both Sites and officials with Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, LLP, by telephone were unsuccessful.