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Questions for a lawyer: Should board members make the call?

Halifax County School Board wrestled with whether individual members should have a direct line to the school board’s attorney. The discussion arose Thursday evening prior to the board’s scheduled work session. Concerned ED-5 trustee Roger Long added the item to the agenda citing legal responsibilities of school board members as they tackle the budget.

He offered a motion that said any school board member should be allowed to contact the school’s attorney for an opinion.

ED-1 trustee Phyllis Smith seconded the motion with a variety of differing opinions being voiced when the motion was discussed.

“I have a responsibility I take very seriously, and it should be my prerogative as a school board member” (to contact the attorney,) Long said.

ED-8 school board representative Walter Potts disagreed.

“Chairman, I have a problem with everyone calling the attorney every time they have a question. I would suggest we run it through the chairman,” Potts countered.

School Superintendent Paul Stapleton pointed out the school board attorney charges a current rate of $450 an hour whether he provides written or verbal information.

“It’s just going to run up an expense,” added Potts.

“An hour is an hour,” said ED-6 trustee Fay Satterfield.

ED-4 school board member Cheryl Terry suggested when a board member has a legal question, he or she should put it in written form and send a copy to the chairman, vice-chairman and superintendent who will ask the attorney for a written response. Once he responds, the written response will be distributed to each board member.

After some discussion, ED-7 representative R. K. “Dick” Stoneman amended the motion to state each board member may make a request for information to the attorney jointly with the chairman, with a response to be disseminated to all board members.

ED-3 trustee Kimberly Farson offered a second to Stoneman’s motion which was unanimously approved.

“If we have a problem with the chair, we have a perfect chair right now, but if the chair doesn’t work with me, then my question still isn’t going to get answered,” Long pointed out.

“I disagree…that to me is irrelevant and really is a slap to every board member in here. Regardless of what the question is, that person would answer it,” Potts responded.