Rock Hill trial focuses on testimony

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 14, 2005

Who knew what and when did they know it?

Those were the key questions Wednesday as testimony continued in the Rock Hill lawsuit trial in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.

The plaintiffs', attorneys Austin Wildman and Eric Schooley called witnesses they hoped would bolster their contention that Rock Hill School Board President Lavetta Sites, fueled by her dislike of Evans, managed to coerce fellow board members Wanda Jenkins and Paul R. Johnson into actions that were not in the best interest of the school district - actions that, if true, would represent various forms of wrongdoing in office.

Email newsletter signup

The lawsuit, filed by the group Citizens Against Poor Spending (CAPS), seeks to remove the three board members for those alleged misdeeds. The three board members deny any wrongdoing.

One of the key issues raised Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday by Schooley and Wildman was whether the three board members had secret, illegal meetings during which time they plotted to get rid of superintendent Lloyd Evans.

Johnson testified that he had discussed with board president Lavetta Sites their mutual concern about Evans' 2003 five-year contract extension before the two of them took office in January 2004.

But Johnson said they did not have any secret meetings with board member Wanda Jenkins to discuss getting rid of Evans. Johnson also testified, as Jenkins did Tuesday, that he was not aware Sites would propose in early January that she be given authority to interview and select a law firm to council the board on legal matters.

Johnson said he voted in favor of the resolution because he thought it was necessary to determine if a lame duck board had made a proper decision in giving Evans a 5-year contract extension in the fall of 2003. That contract extension was granted after the November election but before Sites and Johnson took office in January.

Johnson denied that he and Jenkins always voted to please Sites and named two or three instances when he cast dissenting votes.

Johnson also denied he had conspired with Sites in the creation of a resolution to non-renew Evans contract.

That resolution was proposed during a special February 2004 meeting that two board members and Evans contend was illegal. The three board members contend it was not.

&#8221I had a pretty good idea but no, I did not know,“ Johnson said.

Wildman also pressed Johnson on why he voted in August 2004 to hand control of the district to the Lawrence County School Board - a move Wildman asserted was tantamount to abdicating his responsibilities. Johnson said the board had no choice since the district could not operate with a superintendent.

&#8221I didn't want to pass it, but I did,“ Johnson said. &#8221I thought it was in the best interest of the kids.“

Wildman questioned Johnson on why he voted to pay legal bills submitted by the law firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, which Sites selected as legal counsel, when most of the bills were only statements, not itemized invoices, and there was no way to know what precisely the law firm had done for the district.

&#8221If you had gotten a bill from a cell phone company or Sears, would you just pay it?“ Wildman asked. … &#8221But yet you voted to pay bills with public funds and had no idea what they were about.“

To bolster the plaintiffs' assertion that Sites has a vendetta against Evans, the former superintendent was called to the witness stand.

Evans told the court that Sites was his payroll clerk and had worked in the district for more than 20 years before her 2001 retirement.

During that time, Evans said Sites had gotten angry at him once and quit when she did not get a pay raise. Evans also contends that she had gotten angry at him in 2000 when the board did not recommend her son for a job in the district.

Evans also said he was not aware the three board members wanted to non-renew his contract until March 2004 when he got a letter informing him of the the decision made during the special February board meeting.

The next meeting, he asked for an executive session to discuss their complaints against him.

&#8221Mrs. Sites told me if I didn't like it I could get a lawyer and sue them,“ Evans told the court.

He did in fact do that. Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Richard Walton ruled that Evans did have a valid contract. The board appealed the ruling and the case has been sent back to Walton to rule on other items the case included.

Under questioning from defense attorney Steve Rodeheffer, Evans admitted that Sites had been considered a good employee during her employment with the district, and there were only those three times they had sparred.

&#8221And you conclude from this Lavetta has a vendetta against you and wanted you fired by the board?“ Rodeheffer asked.

Rodeheffer also asserted that at the end of any contract, the board can simply choose not to renew it and does not need to have a reason why it may want to seek a new superintendent.

When Evans said Sites' two resolutions - one hire a legal firm and one to non-renew his contract were brought up without prior knowledge of others - were contrary to board policy, Rodeheffer countered

&#8221What board policy?“

Evans said he could not remember.

Evans also said, under questioning from Rodeheffer, that the manner in which Sites, Jenkins and Johnson had gone into their Feb. 25 executive session, during which time the non-renewal resolution was brought up, was not unusual by Rock Hill standards. CAPS and its supporters contend the wording of the agenda item, requesting an executive session to discuss &#8221personnel“ was insufficient, according to the state's open meetings law.

Rodeheffer asked Evans if the &#8221personnel“ pronouncement was commonplace.

&#8221It was a practice prior to Lavetta and Paul taking office, wasn't it?“ Rodeheffer asked.

&#8221A lot of times, yes,“ Evans answered.

Others testifying Wednesday included board treasurer Chris Robinson, board member Jackie Harris and former board member Rich Donohue. The trial continues today in Common Pleas Court before visiting Judge Fred Crow.