PEMBROKE — The lawsuit filed against six Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education members for allegedly breaking open meetings law has been dismissed by mutual consent.
At a special called meeting tonight, the board met in a closed session with attorneys to discuss the lawsuit that sprung up as a result of the firing of former Superintendent Tommy Lowry and quick hiring of Thomas Graves to replace him. The plaintiffs argued those actions could not occurred is the board members had not met as a group outside of a public setting.
After a closed session the dismissal was announced and board members talked of moving forward together. Brian Freeman made a motion to invite the North Carolina School Boards Association to provide additional training to help the board function more productively. The motion was carried unanimously.
“I think today … January 26, it’s time we as a board move forward and we do what we are elected to do, to serve the students and teachers of Robeson County,” board member Craig Lowry said.
The reasoning behind the plaintiffs offering the mutual dismissal were explained by attorney Gary Locklear, a former Superior Court judge and one of three lawyers representing the plaintiffs.
“This lawsuit would drag on forever and there is some risk to the plaintiffs and the minor children and their parents if we didn’t prove an open meetings violation, then they could be subject to damages,” Locklear said. “Truth be known, the lawyer they hired … was going to paperwork us to death. We would rather the board get back to being board members rather than being defendants in a lawsuit.”
Locklear and fellow lawyers Joshua Malcolm and Tiffany Powers were representing the plaintiffs at no charge.
Charles Bullard, Freeman, Randy Lawson, Steve Martin, Dwayne Smith and Peggy Wilkins-Chavis, who all voted Jan. 10 to buy out Superintendent Lowry’s contract and hire Virginia-based educator Thomas Graves, hired Fayetteville attorney Neil Yarborough to represent them individually. Board attorney Grady Hunt is representing them in their capacity as elected board members.
Several parents and educators spoke after the meeting in an impromptu discussion with attorneys Locklear, Malcolm and a couple of board members. The feeling that the dismissal felt like a loss for those upset by the conduct of the six board members was expressed repeatedly..
“It’s not a loss at all, we did what we set out to do and that was to stop the hiring of Graves. We did that, that was accomplished,” Locklear said.
Locklear believes that the board was anxious to settle as the six members were afraid what a lawsuit which demanded all of their cellphone and email records be turned over would show.
To start the meeting, Bullard made a motion for the attorneys fees incurred by the six board members, who were sued in their capacity as board members and as individuals, would be paid from a school board trust. The motion passed 8-1 with only John Campbell voting against. Chairman Loistine DeFreece and Brenda Fairley-Ferebee abstained.
The trust provides money to protect board members from lawsuits if they are sued as individuals.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly