Attorney says lawsuit will be dropped if board members admit collusion

By Michael Gellatly -

Gary Locklear

Garris Neil Yarborough

LUMBERTON — The lead attorney in a lawsuit against six members of the Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education says the plaintiffs would be willing to settle the case if the board members would admit they broke North Carolina’s open meetings law.

Former Superior Court Judge Gary Locklear, one of three attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said today the plaintiffs would drop the lawsuit if the six board members who voted to make a superintendent change without informing the public would admit to conspiring to do so outside of a regular meeting, in breach of North Carolina law.

The school board has acknowledged breaking its own policy of not advertising the superintendent’s job before it was offered to Thomas Graves. The board on Jan. 10 fired Superintendent Tommy Lowry and voted to offer Graves, an offer that was rescinded after a lawsuit was filed.

“We’d like them to acknowledge that,” Locklear said. “We know they broke their own policy, that is just a fact, but an open meetings violation occurred. I don’t think that’s going to happen, we will see.”

A judge last week issued a temporary restraining order forbidding the school board from hiring Graves, and another judge was going to rule on a possible extension during a hearing on Wednesday, but that hearing is canceled.

Superior Court Judge James M. Webb signed off on an agreement Monday that includes a demand that the Public Schools of Robeson County produce records that board members have completed mandatory training in ethics, law and school board responsibilities. It also extends the temporary restraining order forbidding the hiring of Graves into March.

It was agreed that attorneys for the Public Schools of Robeson County and the six school board member named in the lawsuit must certify to the court they have preserved all communications regarding board activities since Jan. 1, 2016, including phone calls, emails, text messages, any other electronic messages.

Settlement talks are still ongoing, Locklear said, and will now involve the newly hired attorney for the school board members, Garris Neil Yarborough. Yarborough is a Fayetteville attorney with 35 years experience practicing law. He is the town attorney for Red Springs, Lumber Bridge, St. Pauls and Parkton and serves as the attorney for the North Carolina Indian Housing Authority.

A special meeting of the Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, during which the school board will consult with its Yarborough and the system’s attorney, Grady Hunt. The meeting will be held at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s Office of Regional Initiatives at the Carolina Commerce and Technology Center, 115 Livermore Drive in Pembroke.

The six targeted in the lawsuit are Charles Bullard, Brian Freeman, Randy Lawson, Steve Martin, Dwayne Smith and Peggy Wilkins-Chavis, who all voted to buy out Lowry’s contract and hire Graves. Graves, a Virginia educator with a tough-guy reputation, has told The Robesonian he intends to apply for the position when it is advertised.

According to board member John Campbell, there was an effort during last week’s emergency meeting to rescind the firing of Lowry but none of the six board members were willing to change their vote.

Gary Locklear Locklear

Garris Neil Yarborough Neil Yarborough

By Michael Gellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly ay 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly ay 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly

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