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BOE target of suit, EEOC complaint

By By Sherry Digmon
Advance Staff Writer
The Escambia County (Ala.) Board of Education is facing a civil suit and discrimination complaint, both filed within one week.
Board members had received notification of the complaint filed May 26 by Superintendent Dr. Margaret Breland-Bradley with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The civil suit was filed Friday, June 2, the day of the board meeting in East Brewton.
The suit seeks to nullify all votes made by board member Michael Goolsby since he was appointed to the board last March, filling a vacancy left by board member Murray Stinson's resignation in February 1999.
East Brewton resident Thomas G. Lowrey Jr., who had applied for the seat on the board, claims the board used unlawful means in filling the vacancy, denying him and other applicants their constitutional rights.
According to the suit, Alabama law states that any vacancy on the board be filled by appointment by a majority of the remaining members. He further claims that procedure was not followed in this case.
At the March 1, 1999 special meeting, Chairman Johnson announced that anyone interested in filling the position must apply by March 15. Williams said Johnson then appointed a committee of two, himself and Dukes, to review all interested applicants and to provide a full report to the board on March 25.
By board vote, Goolsby was selected to fill the vacant seat. At least one board member expressed his displeasure with the selection process, and two board members, Danny Benjamin and W.J. Grissett, voted against Goolsby's appointment to the board.
Williams said that the procedure denied the right by the applicants to be considered by the full board and also denied the full board the right to consider applicants other than the one named by the two-man committee.
Lowrey's suit lists five counts against the BOE and school board members Janice Ash, Jimmy Dukes, Danny Benjamin, Willie J. Grissett, Roger Madden and Chairman A.D. Johnson.
Count one claims that the plaintiff's constitutional right to seek public office was violated because the BOE had failed to adopt a structured procedure for the filling of vacancies.
Count two claims that Lowrey's rights were violated because the BOE failed to properly consider his application for selection.
Count three claims that Johnson and Dukes violated Alabama's Open Meeting Law by conducting interviews of candidates for the board vacancy in private sessions.
Count four claims that defendants Johnson and Dukes violated Alabama's Open Meeting Law by meeting in secret and narrowing the list of interested candidates from six down to one finalist.
Count five claims that the defendants, with the exception of Benjamin and Madden, violated Alabama's Open Meeting Law by ratifying the private actions of defendants Johnson and Dukes.
Lowrey is seeking an injunction "requiring the Defendants to disallow and hold as null and void any and all votes taken by the unlawful selectee, Mr. Michael Goolsby."
Perhaps the most controversial vote Goolsby has been involved in was the April 20 vote not to renew Dr. Bradley's contract. Even if his vote is nullified, the vote would stand. The motion was made to renew Dr. Bradley's contract. Three board members voted for renewing the contract, and four, one of them being Goolsby, voted against. If his vote is void, the vote stands at a tie which means the motion fails.
Williams added that his client is also asking that the board establish a formalized process and adhere to that process.
Lowrey is also seeking nominal damages as the court deems appropriate and just and his costs and expenses in bringing this action, including a reasonable attorney's fee.
Williams' office is also representing Dr. Bradley in her discrimination complaint against the board.
In April, the board voted not to renew Bradley's two-year contract. She is the first woman and the first African-American to serve as superintendent of the Escambia County school system.
Williams said Bradley may the first superintendent ever "let go" by the board.
The complaint is against the school board, not individual members.