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COMMUNITY VOICE: Is this any way to conduct public business?

By Robert R. Meeks

I read with great interest the story in your newspaper reporting on what some speakers at a school board meeting said about the way school Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon and the school board dealt with high school Principal Albert Randolph’s case.

Based on my own brief contact with Herndon, as discussed below, and stories I have read in the newspaper about school matters since she was hired, I am of the opinion that Mattie Cowan’s quoted remarks provide a good description of Herndon’s approach to the conduct of school business, and I wish I had known in advance that Joe Bailey was circulating a petition demanding Herndon’s removal as superintendent, so I could have signed it.

A little more than a year ago I wrote to County Administrator James Halasz informing him that Halifax County Middle School had for years been collecting and dumping huge volumes of high velocity stormwater runoff from school land onto my abutting land. I told him this was causing heavy erosion of my land and that of other residences nearby and requested help in getting it stopped. Halasz wrote back saying he had referred the matter to Herndon because school land is owned by the school board.

After Herndon had failed to get back to Halasz or me within a reasonable time, I requested that the clerk of the school board schedule an appointment for me to go before the board to make the board aware of the situation and show some video I had made during significant rainfalls. 

Herndon somehow learned of my request and telephoned me. She said she had visited the site and had talked with Larry Roller, then school maintenance director, about it. She also said that given the lay of my land and considering how long the school had been there, she did not believe the school was obligated to stop dumping its stormwater runoff onto my land. She advised me that if I still wanted to go before the school board, I could do so, but I would only be given three minutes to speak and would not be permitted to show the video. I got the impression that she did not wish to have me appear before the school board at all for some reason, so I advised her I would deal with the issue in court.

The next day I mailed a letter to school board Chairman Kim Farson to make her aware of the situation and to indicate to her my impression that Herndon had preempted the board’s prerogatives. Farson replied in an e-mail that she had not been aware of the issue at all prior to getting my letter. She said she would show my letter to the other board members at an upcoming planning session and contact me after the meeting. Farson never again contacted me, and to the best of my knowledge the board has not done anything relative to this matter after nearly a year.

During the past several months, I have requested that county, regional and state officials responsible for enforcement of stormwater runoff management laws and regulations investigate and take appropriate action against the school board. However, nothing has yet been done, and it seems likely nothing will be done unless a court orders it. 

I have been told that obtaining a court order could cost me and county taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars for legal fees and costs. However, as things stand, there seems to be no other way to stop the massive continuing erosion of my land that is being caused by the large volumes of high velocity stormwater runoff.

Albert Randolph’s case, like my own case, are in my opinion merely examples of the folly of continuing to allow Herndon to decide important questions that properly should be decided by the school board itself. 

In each of these cases Herndon had ample opportunity to “do the right thing” right from the beginning and use her own initiative to do what a reasonable, responsible decision maker should do to make things right, without unnecessary delay or haggling. 

Instead, Herndon seems inclined to make decisions that are counterproductive and make little or no sense to anyone else. And, regrettably, the school board seems far too willing to accept these poor decisions unless a concerted public outcry is raised or there is an intervention by a court.

One may well ask, is this any way to conduct the public’s business?

 

Robert R. Meeks resides in South Boston.