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City aldermen vote to oust school board members

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez’s three school board appointees could be removed from their positions pending legal review from the city’s attorney.

Ward 2 Alderman Ricky Gray introduced a motion calling for the removal Tuesday during the Board of Aldermen’s regular monthly meeting. Gray said he felt the school board members had violated “policies and laws” that allowed for their removal.

The city appoints three members to the school board, while the county appoints two. The city’s appointees are David Troutman, Thelma Newsome and Benny Wright.

“They have lost the public trust, lost the confidence of the teachers and especially the kids,” Gray said. “We sit up here as elected officials when the community is crying out, teachers crying out and administrators crying out.”

Gray referenced an incident in November during which a student brought a screwdriver to school and threatened another student saying the incident, according to state law, should have been reported to the state education department.

“The state law says you have 24 hours to report that to the state department, and they have not done that,” Gray said. “They are violating policies, and I believe that gives us the authority to remove them from that board.”

After Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery asked what the city’s legal rights on the subject were, City Attorney Hyde Carby said he would have to review the situation in further detail before speaking on the matter.

“I’m caught a little off guard here,” Carby said. “I’m not suggesting it’s some sort of cause for it, but I don’t have enough in front of me to say.”

Carby said after the meeting he would review the state law to determine if Gray’s request was something the city can even do.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith said she wished matters that needed more in-depth legal opinions would be brought to the attention of the board in advance.

“We don’t have any proof that any of this happened,” Smith said. “We have a responsibility to act responsible in these matters.”

Mayor Butch Brown said he was under the impression that disciplinary actions, such as the one Gray mentioned, are handled by the principals and administration at each school, meaning school board members might not have even heard of that particular case.

“I think what would be required here is that we have more information about the charges and the effects thereafter — how it was handled, was it handled by the school board,” Brown said. “My understanding is that the school board members do not involve themselves with that activity.”

Ward 6 Alderman Dan Dillard made a motion to table Gray’s motion pending further legal guidance and information, but that motion did not go to a vote.

Gray later amended his motion to include language that stated the school board members would only be relieved of their duties if permitted by law.

That motion passed 3-2 with Gray, Fortenbery and Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis voting in favor and Smith and Dillard voting against.

Ward 4 Alderman Tony Fields abstained from the vote and any discussions on the topic, since he is principal of Frazier Elementary School.

Troutman, who was not in attendance, said after the meeting he didn’t recall the board hearing the case Gray referenced.

Troutman said that matter, or any other of that nature, would not come before the board unless the student asked for an appeal to the administrator’s decision.

“Most of that stuff is meant to be taken care of by the administrators on the school level,” Troutman said. “I don’t remember anything about that incident coming to the board, and my humble feeling is that it shouldn’t have come before the board unless there was an appeal.”

Troutman said his term on the school board expires in February and if city officials didn’t believe he was doing a good job, he would consider stepping down.

“If they decide not to renew me, fine, that’s their prerogative,” Troutman said. “I appreciate Alderman Gray’s concerns for the community, but if he can find someone else to do a better job, more power to him.”

Newsome, who was not in attendance, said after the meeting she was also not familiar with the incident Gray referenced.

“We don’t get into the day-to-day operations of the school, so we have to rely on the superintendent to do his or her job,” Newsome said. “As long as it appears he’s doing that, we have no reason to go behind his back.”

Newsome said she would wait to hear the board’s decision on the matter.

“If the board who appointed me deems I’m not doing the job and asks for my resignation, I’m sure they won’t have a problem receiving that,” Newsome said.

Wright could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

In other news from the meeting:

-City Clerk Donnie Holloway is talking to accounting firms this week that will be eventually hired to review the city’s banks accounts.

The process came from motions made at the city’s board meeting earlier this month by Dillard who said he felt the city’s bookkeeping had gotten to a point that prevent him — and taxpayers — from having a clear understanding of what the city’s financial state is.

Holloway said he and his staff created a needs assessment that showed getting the city’s bank accounts in order was a top priority.

“I recommend we go ahead and hire someone to come in and get bank accounts current,” Holloway said. “That’s the biggest problem right now.”

Dillard said he had spoken to a few individuals already this week, but wanted to contact local accounting firm Silas Simmons before making any decisions.

Dillard said he hoped to have an outside accountant reviewing the city’s finances by next week.