June 19, 2003 – The fractious and fluctuating Board of Education underwent several transitions at a special meeting on Wednesday. The addition of a new member brought the body to its full complement of nine. Its attorney was absent and another lawyer sat in, although under circumstances that were unclear. And a July retirement date was announced for its executive director.
The harsh relations among board personnel in the last three months were apparent Wednesday from the moment that Harry Daniel gaveled the meeting to order around 10 a.m. Member Jorge Galiber, ousted as board chair in March, and fellow member Malik Sekou challenged the right of acting chair Daniel to call a special meeting and set the agenda.
The items on the agenda were two personnel matters and the funding of scholarships.
The personnel matters were discussed in an executive session that lasted for two and a half hours. Afterwards, Daniel announced the board's decision to hold a hearing for Nandi Sekou, whose hiring was announced on March 5 and who was suspended without pay on June 11.
Nandi Sekou, who is the ex-wife of board member Malik Sekou, was hired to replace Ronald Russell, who left the job after winning a seat in the 25th Legislature.
Board members also agreed on Wednesday to pay Nandi Sekou's salary from the time of her suspension until the date of the hearing.
At the time of her suspension, the lawyer was escorted from the board offices by police. According to The Virgin Islands Daily News, the suspension followed an incident between the lawyer and the board's executive director, Evadney Hodge. Following Wednesday's executive session, Hodge had no comment on the pending hearing or the reinstatement of pay for Sekou.
Hodge had been expected to retire shortly. Galiber said that during the executive session she set her departure date for July 7.
Galiber said after the session that he believes there is a connection between the disciplinary measures taken against Nandi Sekou and his lawsuit challenging his removal as board chair. The lawyer said at the March 13 board meeting when the vote was taken that a two-thirds majority vote is needed for such action. That would have meant six votes; five voted for the motion.
Galiber also questioned the circumstances of lawyer Pedro Williams' presence at the Wednesday meeting.
"I don't have any problems with him being hired, because sooner or later the board had to seek some kind of legal advice," Galiber said of Williams. But, he added, "it seems there are certain members of the board who don't want any legal advice from attorney Sekou, and it stems from her legal opinion, which she read, that pertains to what happened when I was ousted by the board members."
With regard to Williams, Galiber said, "the issue that's ticklish is that if an attorney is hired and it's not budgeted, you need to at least inform the board members where this money is coming from, what part of the budget you are going to pay this attorney from … and the hourly rate. Still, to this date, this board has not … determined a contract with this attorney."
Nandi Sekou had been brought aboard at an annual salary of $70,000 according to hiring records provided to the Source.
Daniel had said before the board went into executive session that Williams was present because of the lawsuit brought by Galiber against the board and because of the absence of the board's attorney at the meeting.
When pressed by some other board members, Daniel said Williams had been "hired" after a vote was taken by five members at a meeting held last week. During the executive session, Galiber said that Williams' salary was declared to be between $135 and $200 an hour.
At the March 13 meeting, Daniel, Keith Richards, Linda Thomas, Yvonne Williams-Henry and the late Gerald E. Hodge Sr. submitted a petition calling for Galiber's ouster. Voting against it were Terrence D. Joseph, Clarence Petersen and Malik Sekou. Galiber was not at that meeting.
The school board's brand-new member, former Education Commissioner Liston Davis, said after attending the meeting on his first day on the job that he can see the need for change.
"It was quite an experience," Davis said. "There's a lot of work to be done … If the board is going to be successful, we are going to have to start immediately a rehabilitation process of the members."
The Senate approved the governor's nomination of Davis to succeed Gerald Hodge, who died in April, on Tuesday. At his request he was sworn into office on Wednesday morning in Territorial Court by Judge I've Swan, and from there he went directly to the school board meeting. Davis said afterward that he wanted things done that way because he felt the board would benefit from his immediate participation.
Daniel said he believes that despite the tense and sometimes hostile discourse among its members, the board is fully functional. He also expressed confidence that tensions will eventually ease and give way to greater productivity.
"The board here is working. The board is still doing what is necessary to do to meet all our requirements," Daniel said. "With the little bit of internal things — we're going to get that worked out. We have a full board now, so it shouldn't be any problems with us doing what we need to do to meet our mandates."
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