Buckley testifies in contract trial

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Dr. Melvin Buckley told a jury hearing testimony in his breach of contract lawsuit Wednesday he believes contracts are a &uot;very serious sort of thing.&uot; Buckley, a former superintendent for the Natchez-Adams School District, is suing his former employer for allegedly not honoring a settlement agreement approved after the school board voted not to renew Buckley’s superintendent contract for the 1993-94 school year.

In the last few moments of court, Buckley told the jury that he did not take contracts lightly. &uot;To me the signing of a contract is a very serious sort of thing,&uot; Buckley said. And contracts have to be followed, he said. &uot;When I sign a contract, I’m binding myself to the provisions of the contract,&uot; Buckley said.

As part of the settlement agreement, Buckley was to work for the school district for two more years doing special projects for the school board and earning $18,000 annually. This time period would have allowed Buckley to earn credit for the 25 years of service he wanted for his state retirement.

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Buckley’s lawsuit contests that the school board reneged on the agreement. The school board argues Buckley wanted them to approve a two-year contract that would have violated state law.

Attorney Jim Keith, who works for the school district, testified Wednesday that Buckley never signed two copies of a two-year contract the board gave Buckley to sign. Instead, Buckley presented a version of the contract which was not &uot;legally enforceable,&uot; Keith said. &uot;We were not going to let our clients sign that,&uot; he said.

If the school board had signed Buckley’s version of the contract, it could have faced difficulties with the state auditor or the public employees retirement system over Buckley’s employment status.

For the contract to be legal, Buckley had to be a full time employee of the Natchez-Adams School District if he wanted his desired retirement credit, Keith said.

This did not mean he had to spend all 240 contract days in the office, but he could not be employed just as a consultant.

&uot;I told him if he wanted to do consulting for other districts there would be flexibility,&uot; Keith said. &uot;He’s not on a time clock.&uot;

But he cannot become someone else’s employee because he must bee an employee of Natchez-Adams School District, Keith said.

But during Wednesday’s testimony, Buckley’s attorney, John Mooney, argued the definition of a 240-day contract and the supposed flexibility of the contract.

&uot;The fact is (Buckley) could do work on the special projects and he could stay home and do it on his kitchen table,&uot; Mooney said.

All he would need is evidence of his work, Mooney said to Keith during questioning and Keith agreed to that statement.

School board member Terry Estes, Superintendent Dr. Carl Davis and Buckley’s attorney Bill May also testified Wednesday.

The prosecution will continue to interview Buckley today when court reconvenes at 8:30 a.m.