Aug. 27, 2003 – The Board of Education fired its embattled attorney, Nandi Sekou, in executive session at a special meeting on Wednesday.
Harry Daniel, board president/chair, said afterward that Sekou was dismissed because of "failure to comply with orders" and because board members felt that her services were no longer needed.
The board announced its decision after emerging from the executive session, ostensibly convened to discuss an Executive Committee report and two complaints brought before the board, by Lincoln Farrell and Janis Esannason.
The vote to terminate Sekou was 5-3 with Daniel, Keith Richards, Linda Thomas, Terrence D. Joseph and Yvonne Williams-Henry voting in favor of dismissal, as well as to go into executive session. Liston Davis, Jorge Galiber and Malik Sekou voted against both motions.
The ninth board member, Claudette Petersen was absent due to illness. She has been absent from a number of the board meetings since the March one, where she joined Malik Sekou and Joseph in opposing Galiber's removal as board chair.
Davis said after the executive session on Wednesday that he voted against dismissing Nandi Sekou because he felt she should have had a chance to come before the full board to state her point of view.
The action came shortly after a letter from the Public Employees Relations Board was read to the board. The PERB had dismissed Nandi Sekou's appeal of her suspension and her being placed on leave without pay for four days while she was at a conference. Sekou said she had requested administrative leave to attend the meeting.
Nandi Sekou's hiring was announced in March by the then-board chair, Galiber. At the board's meeting a week later, a majority of the members — Daniel, Richards, Thomas, Williams-Henry and Gerald T. Hodge Sr. — voted to remove Galiber as chair. At that meeting, Sekou issued her only legal opinion to the board that has been made public — that the action ousting Galiber was illegal because a two-thirds majority — or six votes — was required to "reorganize the board," which was the stated purpose of the meeting.
From then on, she clashed repeatedly with the board members who had voted to oust Galiber and with the board's executive director, Evadney Hodge. (See "School board, still divided, elects Daniel chair".)
In April Gerald Hodge died. In June, Davis joined the board as his successor. The board voted to hire another lawyer to represent it in a lawsuit brought by Galiber seeking to overturn his ouster.
On June 11, the board voted to suspend Nandi Sekou for insubordination. Police were called to the board offices the next day to escort her from the premises. The board voted on June 18 to continue her on paid leave until it met a week later. It voted on June 25 to suspend her without pay for a week.
Sekou sent a 15-page document to the board appealing that suspension and alleging discrimination by board personnel against her.
After the executive session on Wednesday, Davis wanted to know how the board would handle hiring a new attorney.
Daniel stated that the search committee already in place to find a new executive director would also address the need for a new lawyer. Evadney Hodge retired as executive director in July but has been contracted by the board to stay on while the search for a successor proceeds.
No action was taken on the other matters that the school board went into executive session to discuss. The Esannason case reportedly has to do with a teacher transfer. No information was available concerning the Farrell matter.
Last month Daniel told the Senate Education and Youth Committee that the board's membership was "attempting to resolve all internal issues." He told the senators: "The majority of us has moved on with the duties of the Board of Education. It is getting better as we move along."
Budget balancing act
During the open part of Wednesday's meeting, Hodge said that in an attempt to balance its Fiscal Year 2003 budget the board is using money from its Loan Guarantee Fund. She said the money was earmarked for various purposes such as completing the conference room in the St. Croix office and for a public education campaign to promote the school board.
She said she expects that about $43,000 will be needed to cover expenses through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
"Is there a pending crisis?" Davis asked.
"Yes. We have to balance the budget," Hodge replied.
"Would shifting the funds put us in trouble?" Malik Sekou asked, his concerns stemming from the recent takeover of the V.I. Housing Authority by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department.
"No problem," Hodge said. "It is not federal funds."
She also said: "We are going to realign the budget. All the funds will go into one pot."
The board approved the revised budget 7-1 with Daniel, Davis, Galiber, Joseph, Richards, Thomas and Williams-Henry in favor, and Malik Sekou against.
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