Friday, November 05, 2010

Fayette School Board Settles for $200,000 with former Counsel

Allen Comfirms in Threat to Sue
that she believed Board Act was
"a reprisal and/or unlawful retaliation"

Under the Table Payment Stops Suit

Fayette County Schools Superintendent Stu Silberman's promise to reduce district spending on legal services by $250,000 to $350,000 was always a doubtful proposition. Today it was revealed in the Herald-Leader that Silberman tacked another $200,000 bill on the cost of legal services in the district - and for what?

The effort to outsource legal services was supposedly motivated by a trumped up report from the Hanna Resource Group that cost the board $11,575 and put board members in the position of defending their decision with bad data. The whole mess was handled shoddily.

But as KSN&C reported, many within the school district believed the true motivation behind outsourcing all of the district's legal work came from a different source - a desire to get rid of School Board Attorney Brenda Allen who did not always approve of the way the superintendent went about things. Today's revelation confirms that conclusion.

This from Jim Warren at the Herald-Leader:

The Fayette County Board of Education has reached a settlement with its former in-house attorney, promising to pay her $200,000 in exchange for her pledging not to sue the school board.

According to the settlement, Brenda Dinkins Allen had threatened to file suit against the board alleging that its termination of her job this summer was "a reprisal and/or unlawful retaliation" and a breach of contract in violation of state law.

The Herald-Leader obtained a copy of the settlement under the Kentucky Open Records Act. The agreement was signed in early August by Allen, Superintendent Stu Silberman, then-board chairwoman Becky Sagan and vice chairman John Price. Fayette Schools officials declined to comment Thursday, citing confidentiality provisions in the settlement.
KSN&C asked Allen in October: " Have you entered into any nondisclosure agreements with any party in the past, say, six months or so?"

Allen told KSN&C, "Any concerns with Fayette County have been resolved."

H-L reports that the true cost to school system is unclear. "In such cases, costs usually are covered by a school district's liability insurance." "Such cases" includes those where the district may, in fact, be liable for some bad act. The FCPS policy has a $30,000 deductible. According to FCPS spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall, "The cost for [the] general liability policy that covers the entire district and all employees [during the past year] was $478,410.96."

The nine-page settlement agreement says the school board "shall cause" Allen to be paid $200,000 in exchange for Allen agreeing "not to file or initiate a lawsuit in any court" pressing claims that her termination was illegal. The settlement also states that the agreement should not be construed as an admission by the board that it violated laws or regulation in terminating the in-house counsel position. All parties also agreed to keep the settlement confidential.

Why would Silberman and the board, who claimed publicly that they were going to save the district $250,000 on legal expenses this year, agree to pay Allen $200,000 under the table?

If, as the agreement states, the board is not admitting that it violated any laws, then is the settlement a flagrant waste of taxpayer dollars?

Did the superintendent believe the district might lose an even larger judgment, if he tried to defend his position against Allen?

Which party insisted that the settlement remain confidential?

Now that the settlement has been made public, should FCPS reconsider its outsourcing of legal services?

A district the size of Fayette County is always going to have a baseline need for legal services that can either be billed out on an hourly basis, or handled more economically by in-house counsel workinhg longer hours. Whenever there is more work than one full-time attorney can do, in-house counsel is likely to be the most cost effective way to go.

But suppose one wanted to get rid of their attorney, but lacked "cause." The only way to accomplish the job is to "reduce" or eliminate the position. But that has to be a good faith move, otherwise the district could be held liable for violating the law.

Back in April,

Board member Amanda Ferguson cast the only vote against outsourcing, arguing that it wouldn't save money and that the board would lose the advantages of having an in-house lawyer available whenever needed.

Ferguson asked Lyle Hanna, who praised Silberman and who produced the report upon which the board relied, "Are you aware that the only trial the district went through last year was a direct result of the superintendent’s conduct?" For that, Ferguson went on double-secret probation along with Allen. If there was a way to RIF the District 4 board seat I'm sure the other members would have taken a shot at it.

Ferguson's objections were just barely covered by H-L in April. But more mysteriously, Warren's story on the subsequent fall out was spiked; by an H-L editor one assumes. The editorial board was aware of the news and made an appreciative reference to Ferguson's objections in their pre-election endorsements, and then endoresed her opponent. I wondered at the time if H-L readers would even know what they were referring to since the paper chose not to cover the story. Today's revelation was a welcome change, but it's too soon to know if the paper is now willing to consider looking at the cons as well as the many pros of Silberman's leadership. Today's story ran on page 3.

Then there's this testimonial on the Hanna Resource Group website (a page that tends to move every time KSN&C links to it):
I’ve worked with Lyle and his Team for many years. He is so easy to get along with, yet he pushes. Lyle has the gift of vision, complemented with the gift of getting the work done. He has the insight to see what’s around the corner and helps you discover the appropriate next steps.

--Sylvia Lovely, Executive Director, Kentucky League of Cities

I can't see where Hanna helped the Fayette County Board of Education on this issue. The board clearly headed down the wrong track and with an appeal pending in the Petrilli case, which is tied to this mess, it's not over yet.

Somewhere, Dale Golden is smiling.


KSN&C appreciates a compliment Allen shared recently, when referring to KSN&C analysis of the issues, she said, "you actually did a great job with your legal analysis."


Anonymous said...

It's interesting that this was released and published the day AFTER the school board elections. Hmmmm....

Richard Day said...

I hadn't thought of that. Hummm, is right.

Anonymous said...

Richard, we all knew there was some sinister, evil motive behind Sagan and Silberman's sudden desire to outsource legal services. It was a hair brained scheme doomed to fail from the onset. Being the brilliant attorney she is, Allen let them play their pitiful hand, made mincemeat out of Hanna's report, took medical leave (drew her salary and let someone else do the work) then laid down a Royal Flush!! Beautiful!! The staff has been rooting for her all along and in homes all over Fayette County, staff and administrators are dancing a jig and laughing at the dictator and the bobblehead board. This was the water cooler talk throughout the district today. How can Silberman or the Board show their faces? The facade is cracking and it ain't pretty. Tinsley's gone, Sagan's gone. Ferguson and Barnett are in. (Yipeeee) Bacon acts like a love-struck puppy around the dictator and can only "bobble" her head. It's so sad. Maybe Price will bring honor back to the Chairman's seat now that we are rid of Sagan. How much money was spent on attorneys in say, the last 6 months? How much did they spend defending her threat of a suit? What was the basis of her lawsuit? All of this and he still got a "favorable review?" His worth in the district is dropping daily in the eyes of the staff. The timing of this story is suspicious. The HL is known for putting a copy of documents dealing with the schools on the web for public review, why not this one? Inquiring minds want to know.

Anonymous said...

An excellent piece, quite empowering. They say the truth will set you free.

Brenda Allen was guilty of one crime: she questioned Mr. Silberman. I never knew her to be anything more than a responsible jurist who gave back to the school district she served. When she was relieved of her duties, most of us at Central Office felt this move was more than cost saving.

Unfortunate as her plight is, it is deeply disturbing that the editorial board of the Herald-Leader --the same board that ruthlessly went after Mayor Newberry, the airport advisory board, the exceutive directors of the Kentucky League of Cities, and the former head librarian at the downtown library ---has chosen to overlook Silberman's actions.

History has a way of repeating itself, though. Way back when, I can still remember Fred Wachs at the H-L axing almost all details of Lexington's Civil Rights Movement. I never forgave him for that.

Now, as we watch the H-L refuse to print the negative details of Mr. Silberman's actions, we must wonder what their motives are.

Things are not well in Fayette County Public Schools. A new superintendent is needed. The city deserves better.

Anonymous said...

Reading today's H-L article on the school custodian murder, this caught my eye:

Allen sent an e-mail message to school officials at 7:23 p.m. that day saying she would draft a suspension letter, Parker said.

I was impressed with Allen's quick response in a time critical situation. How much longer would it have taken for an out of house counsel to respond?

I hope this decision will be reconsidered by the new school board.

Anonymous said...

Good point (November 5, 11.40 PM) Allen was on top of things....And yet she was shown the door. Too bad she settled only for $ 200,000. She could have won so much more.

Now we must wait for the two pending trials with Petrelli and the former guidance counselor at Jesse Clark.

Hubris is the only word that comes to mind when I think of Silberman. Oh, how pride comes before the fall....

And this man was actually in the running for superintendent of the year! If Washington can get rid of Michelle Rhee, I hope our FCPS board can get rid of--or at least emasculate--Stu.

Anonymous said...

IAKSS It's About King Stu Silberman

Anonymous said...

I never heard Mr. Silberman called a king before...In any case, as we will see in the upcoming months, he is clearly no absolute monarch and he does not rule by divine right of kings.