Those members of the Lafayette Parish School Board itching for the ouster of the superintendent’s hand-picked special assistant — supposedly over his lack of a high school diploma — may want to reconsider, or at least read the letter his lawyer sent Tuesday to James Simon, the board’s legal counselor.
The drama over Thad Welch — Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper’s special assistant for facilities, maintenance, grounds and transportation — erupted in early January and has since been the favored bone of contention for board members Tehmi Chassion (who has led the charge), Ray Trahan, Greg Awbrey and Mark Allen Babineaux.
|Mark Allen Babineaux|
At issue, according to the protesting board members, is Welch’s lack of a high school diploma, which is listed as a requirement of his job description. According to comments made by board member Hunter Beasley during a meeting earlier this month, Welch is by no means the first employee hired by the board who did not meet the education requirements listed in the job description. Though Beasley did say there are at least two other examples of the board hiring individuals who did not meet all the requirements of their job description, The IND, on Thursday, submitted a public records request to the school system in hopes of determining when they approved those hires, and who was on the board at the time.
We should have that information by Tuesday at the latest, as stipulated by Louisiana’s public records law.
Chassion has led the charge for a re-vote on Welch’s hiring, but so far has yet to garner enough support from his fellow board members.
The likelihood of Chassion and company backing down from the issue is slim, and is arguably the reason Welch — who has yet to share his side of the story with the media — decided to hire Lafayette attorney Lane Roy.
Roy has since weighed in on the legal ramifications of the issue in this letter sent Tuesday to school board attorney James E. Simon, who told The IND during Wednesday’s meeting that he does not speak to reporters.
Roy, himself a former school board attorney, points to the fact that the funding for Welch’s job was OK'd when the board voted to approve its yearly budget during a meeting held June 26. Absent from that meeting — which is no surprise if you’ve read The IND’s previous coverage — were board members Chassion and Tommy Angelle. Roy points out that the board follows Robert’s Rules of Order, which in effect makes them ineligible for any vote to reverse that previous decision since they were not present at the time of the original vote.
Finally, any complaint about qualifications of Mr. Welch are long since not issues for discussion. Mr. Welch applied for the position that he has, appropriately and truthfully indicated in that application all of his background information and education. The Board has every right to look at everything in there before it makes a decision about hiring anyone recommended by the Superintendent. Any claim at this time that there was misrepresentation by Mr. Welch is a statement by the maker of the claim that Mr. Welch, in fact, misrepresented, in my judgment, is libel and makes any person who made such a statement responsible legally for damages that might result therefrom.
I would also suggest, Jimmy, that you remind the Board that when the Board acts illegally, knowing in advance that their actions are illegal, state law provides that they may be held personally responsible for damages that result from their illegal actions. This would be over and above any potential action against the Board as a body or against the Board’s insurer. I do not believe that Board members want to invite this potential responsibility upon their personal estates, and strongly recommend that they follow the law and take no action regarding termination, removal, or other dismissal of Mr. Welch. In short, I suggest the Board simply follow the clearly established law.
Though Chassion did introduce a resolution attempting to pull funding for Welch’s job during Wednesday's meeting — potentially putting him in violation of Robert’s Rules and state law — he was unsuccessful in getting support from a majority of his fellow board members. Only Trahan, Babineaux and Awbrey voted in favor of the item — potentially putting themselves in violation of Robert’s Rules and state law since they were not on the prevailing side of the original vote — with Angelle saying he was still on the fence and would need more information before making up his mind. The majority, including members Hunter Beasley, Shelton Cobb, Mark Cockerham and Kermit Bouillion, opted to let the state Attorney General’s Office weigh in on the matter.
What’s more is that recent legislation, which took effect July 1, puts the termination of a school system employee into the hands of the superintendent, who must first make a written recommendation before the school board can pull the position’s funding. Cooper maintains that will not happen in the case of Welch, whom he previously worked with during his tenure in the McComb, Miss., school system.
Click here to read our most recent coverage of the board’s absentee member issue, and here for more on The IND's recent encounter with the board's attorney.