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Attorney: Morris’ decision is personal

NATCHEZ — Superintendent Anthony Morris’ attorney said the superintendent’s decision to open or close a hearing debating the future of his job to the public is usually a personal decision.

“I think that has as much to do with person’s personality as it does as the hearing itself,” Morris’ attorney, Preston Rideout.

Rideout of Greenwood is the attorney for the Mississippi Association of Educators general council but was hired privately by Morris.

He said he could not legally discuss the hearing’s proceedings or the position of the Morris’ case, but he spoke about his opinion of Morris he has formed since recently taking him on as a client.

“I have actually done a lot of these (types of) hearings and (Morris) is one of the finest, most upstanding people I’ve never represented in one of these hearings,” Rideout said.

Rideout said although the hearing is not public, he hopes Natchez residents have taken the opportunity to get to know Morris.

Rideout could not quantify how often hearings on superintendent contracts are closed to the public.

“Every case is different. It’s hard to generalize,” Rideout said.

Natchez-Adams School Board members other than the board president are not permitted to attend a hearing to determine if Anthony Morris will be released as superintendent.

Tuesday was the first day of the hearing requested by Morris to urge the board to keep his job. It will continue next Wednesday.

School board attorney Bruce Kuehnle said the board president Harold Barnett can attend the hearing to represent the board. But board members Dr. Benny Wright, Dale Steckler, Thelma Newsome and David Troutman are prohibited from attending, just like the rest of the public.

The board will deliberate on the hearing for its decision based on a transcript by a court reporter.

Board member David Troutman said Wednesday he was told before the hearing that he would be called Wednesday if his presence was requested as part of the hearing.

“(Morris) has the right to make (the hearing) open or closed; it would be nice for it to be public,” Troutman said.

Barnett said Wednesday he could not comment on whether he attended Tuesday’s hearing.

Steckler and Wright said Tuesday they were told they would be called into the hearing as needed.

Newsome could not be reached for comment.

Kuehnle said the hearing could be set to continue on a third date or as many days as necessary.

A Mississippi state statute says hearings on proposed non-renewal of a superintendent’s contract should be conducted in executive session unless the superintendent requests a public hearing.

Once the board members receive a transcript of the hearing after it concludes, they have 30 days to meet as a group to either deliberate or hear a final closing argument by Morris’s attorney.

The Natchez-Adams School Board voted at its Jan. 20 meeting not to renew Morris’ contract, which expires June 30 of this year.

The decision came from a motion made by Wright with the support of Newsome, Barnett and Troutman. Steckler voted against the non-renewal.

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