CHARLESTON COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Superintendent Dr. Eric Gallien will remain on paid administrative leave following a fiery specially called meeting by the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees on Thursday morning.
The meeting followed an opinion released by the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office on whether the board violated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirements for the executive session that led to Dr. Gallien being placed on leave.
It was a contentious meeting often leading to back-and-forth arguments between the board of trustees. And while the meeting was not open to public comment, several people still voiced their questions and frustrations.
Board members expressed concerns of their own to fellow board members and Human Resources. Some of those questions were surrounding the cause and length of the investigation into Dr. Gallien and the formal process of his paid leave.
Board Chair Pamela McKinney said many of the questions could not be answered to protect the integrity of the investigation.
Parliamentarian Liz Guthridge was on hand for the meeting and advised the board, because of the issues involving the FOIA process, to vote on whether to postpone the Dr. Gallien decision to a later date, allowing more time for the district’s human resources department fully investigate the personnel matter involving the recently hired superintendent.
“We have a person at home that’s sitting at home being paid a lot of money because of an allegation. We have people sitting in positions that have pending investigations and lawsuits. What is the difference?” asked Darlene Roberson, who represents District Eight.
Fellow trustee, Ed Kelley later responded.
“The situations are not the same at all. Because one person is the chief executive of a district and the other is not,” said Kelley who represents District Two.
Ultimately, the same board members who voted to place Dr. Gallien on paid leave voted against postponing the motion to the October 23rd board of trustees meeting on a 5-4 vote, and the decision to place Gallien on leave passed – also on a 5-4 vote.
The meeting comes about two weeks after a controversial vote by some board members to place the newly hired superintendent on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation related to a personnel matter.
The South Carolina Attorney General’s office returned correspondence to State Rep. Marvin Pendarvis on whether the board violated Freedom of Information Act requirements.
Solicitor General Robert Cook said the office is unable to adjudicate whether FOIA was violated and that only a court had that authority.
“Only a court, in possession of all the facts, and with the authority to resolve cases or controversies, may do so,” he wrote.
However, the AG’s office stated that based on its prior opinions, and the decisions of South Carolina courts, they do believe that a court would likely conclude that FOIA’s requirements for convening in executive session were not met.
“I believe that (CCSD) currently lacks a Superintendent, rendering any actions taken since the September 25th board meeting as potentially invalid and subject to legal challenge,” said State Rep. Marvin Pendarvis in a statement Thursday.
Pendarvis added, “Specifically, during the said meeting, the Board voted to place Dr. Gallien on Paid Leave and appointed an interim Superintendent in his stead. In light of the Attorney General’s opinion, it appears that the Board itself acknowledges that the meeting and its subsequent vote were invalid, thus casting doubt on the legitimacy of the interim Superintendent’s appointment. Although the Board did vote to renew Dr. Gallien’s suspension and continue the investigation, no official vote was cast regarding the interim Superintendent’s appointment. Consequently, any actions undertaken in that capacity should be regarded as potentially unlawful and void.”
When News 2 asked the district about this statement from Rep. Pendarvis, a CCSD spokesperson pointed to a document explaining the deputy superintendent’s role. It said in part, “Deputy Superintendent of Schools will serve as acting Superintendent of Schools in the absence of the Superintendent of Schools.”
Rev. Nelson B Rivers III said supporters will hold a public meeting to discuss the board at Emanuel AME Church on Thursday night.