School board member sparks debate with motion

Mark Merchant
By Kristin Rover
Sun staff

West Clermont Board of Education Member Mark Merchant made a motion the board hire a new legal firm to represent the district during the board’s Feb. 10 meeting and Board Member Jim Lewis seconded the motion.

The motion was not well received by two board members who said they had never discussed a new legal firm before the motion was made.

“This is the first time I have heard of this,” Board Member Tammy Brinkman said.

Brinkman called the move inconsiderate and asked Merchant to explain where the motion came from.

Jim Lewis
Merchant said changing the legal firm would be a cost reduction for the district. He said Frost Brown Todd has agreed to provide legal services for $7,000 per month.

“What is that?” Brinkman asked. “A flat rate?”

Board Member Tina Sanborn said the information they were given by the law firm says it was a flat rate.

Merchant said he did not have the district’s current legal rates to compare.

Board member Steve Waldmann asked Merchant if they have even talked with any of the individuals who will be impacted by the change in legal council, including administrators, union leaders and teachers at the district.

“We have not,” Merchant said.

Waldmann challenged Merchant and said he isn’t being transparent.

“Who is we?” Waldmann said after Merchant made the reference several times.

Brinkman said if Merchant is meeting with other board members without informing all of the board members and the public, it is a violation of the Sunshine Law.

You have to have discussion in an open forum before we can give anyone direction,” Brinkman said.

Waldmann said he also disagrees with a motion being made to hire a company without an evaluation process.

“It is absolutely absurd that this would come to the board without discussion and without a vetting process,” Waldmann said.

Superintendent Dr. Keith Kline said he was asked by a single board member to look at Frost Brown Todd.

“My recommendation has been and continues to be to go through a vetting process,” Kline said.

Kline said he is not passing any judgement about the law firm, but he does feel it is irresponsible not to have other individuals at the district involved in the process.

Kline said he would recommend two board members also be involved in the vetting process.

“We don’t want to get ourselves involved in legal issues,” Kline said about the process.

He said he looked into when a group could meet to discuss the new firm, and he said the first day they could all meet would be Feb. 27.

Waldmann asked Treasurer Alana Cropper what the procedure is after a motion is made.

Cropper said the motion can be withdrawn by the board member who made the motion or they could vote on the motion that was made.

Lewis withdrew his second of the motion made by Merchant, and Merchant withdrew his motion to hire the new law firm.

“This speaks volumes about transparency at this district,” Waldmann said after the motion was withdrawn.