October 13, 1992
by Edmund Tsang
The effort by The Harbinger to determine from the attorney and the accounting firm when and how they came to be involved in the 3-1-1 vote taken by the Mobile County School Board of Commissioners last Monday to suspend school superintendent Dr. Douglas Magann, and, through them, perhaps shed light on charges by two board members that they were excluded from a meeting the other three members held to discuss Magann's suspension, failed.
Jim Wood, the attorney named in the motion offered by board member Marion "Sugar" Warren to assist the school board to dismiss Magann, said he is "not going to diiscuss or comment" because of the "attorney-client" relationship, when he was asked if the baard has interviewed him for the post. Wood gave the same answer when he was asked to speculate the areas of his expertise that led the board to select him from among the many attorneys in Mobile. Wood said he first learned of his appointment last Monday, when the board passed the motion. Wood said he was "surprised...I had no inkling." When asked if he did or did not meet with the school board before the October 5 vote, Wood refused to comment and referred the question to the school board.
Richard Dukes of the accounting firm of Smith Dukes & Bucklew, which was named in the October 5 motion to audit the school system's financial records, also referred questions, which are similar to those raised with Wood, to the school board. Among the charges against superintendent Magann is "improper use of school funds."
N.Q. Adams, who voted for the motion to suspend Magann for 90 days with pay pending the outcome of a dismissal hearing, was contacted by the Harbinger next. Adams said he does not know who recommended Jim Wood and Smith Dukes & Bucklew to the school board. Adams also said he does not know what criteria the school board used in selecting the attorney and the accounting firm in the Magann matter, but that he has heard "Smith Dukes & Bucklew is a reputable accounting firm." Concerning the charge by board members Hazel Fournier, board vice-president who voted against the motion, and Dr. Joseph Mitchell, who abstained, that the two were kept in the dark, Adams said "Mitchell had to know" because Mitchell made a "5-minute talk" and handed out copies of his speech to the media. "They had to know," said Adams.
Marion "Sugar" Warren said "I can't discuss any of that" when she was asked what are the criteria the school board used to select the attorney and the accounting firm; she gave the same response when asked if the school board had interviewed the attorney and the accouting firm prior to the October 5 meeting. "I am not discussing any of that if it relates to Magann," Warren replied to a question asking who recommended the attorney and accounting firm to the school board.
Messages left with the answering machine of Mrs. Jeanne Andrews, president of the school board who voted "yes" on the motion, were not returned by press time.
Mrs. Hazel Fournier said she received a phone call from a man, "a reputable citizen in the community," on September 24. "He told me in these exact words, 'Mrs. Andews has three votes, enough votes to terminate the superintendent,'" recalled Mrs. Fournier. "He expressed his thought about how he felt that I should support them.
"I told him that I have a problem, and my problem is that what you are telling me, I should be getting from my school board president, and I have not heard from her," said Fournier. "I told the gentleman, 'You should not be telling me this.'" Fournier would not identify the man who called her on September 24. "If I have to get on a witness stand," said Fournier, "then I would disclose his name."
Then on Friday, September 25, before a scheduled board meeting, Fournier said Andrews told her that "she was upset that this gentleman had called me because he was dipping into business that was not his." Fournier added that Andrews also said during that conversation she wanted to remove Magann.
"I told Mrs. Andrews that I don't think the time was right with disruption of this nature," said Fournier. "The community would be torn apart coming on the heel of the defeat of the Cafeteria school funding bill, I said, let's go about bringing the community together and do things that are constructive instead of destructive. She agreed with me, and I thought I had convinced her to drop the matter."
Mrs. Fournier was asked if the September 24 phone call and the subsequent conversation on September 25 with Andrews indicate that she was informed of the events leading to the suspension of Magann on October 5. The Mobile Register reported on October 6 that board members Warren and Andrews refute the charge that they excluded Fournier and Mitchell from a meeting held to discuss Magann. According to the Register, Andrews and Warren said "attempts were made to reach Mitchell and that Mrs. Fournier was consulted."
"They may be using that as an excuse," said Fournier, "but they did not inform me that they were going to make a motion to suspend Magann and replace him with Sousa. Mrs. Andrews did not answer me when I asked them questions at the board meeting on October 5. Had she done that, she could have said that on such and such dates I informed you of the matter."
Mrs. Fournier's mother had a heart attack on September 26 and died two days later. On October 2 Fournier said she received a phone call at home, amid the pandemonium in which several relatives were staying with her for her mother's funeral, from a man who told her that he'd read the morning paper, that he believed the school board was about to try to get rid of Magann, and that he would not support the school board doing that. Fournier said she didn't know what the call was about and she explained to the man that she would call him back after the commotion with her mother's funeral was over. She has yet to call him back because of the distraction with the Magann suspension. The Mobile Register reported on October 2 in a page-one story that "Mobile County Board of School Commissioners President Jeanne Andrews has called for a board meeting Monday morning to 'discuss the superintendent's contract'...Speculation the board would ask Dr. Doug Magann to resign, so far, has not rung true. Mrs. Andrews, in a telephone interview Thursday evening, said the meeting would be held to discuss the superintendent's contract, but declined to comment further."
Fournier said Mrs. Andrews came to her house on Thursday, October 1 to express her condolence concerning the death of Fournier's mother. On October 2, Fournier said a courier from the school system left a written notice through the mail slot on her front door, announcing the Monday, October 5 meeting. "The agenda has to be typed that Thursday evening for it to arrive at my house on Friday," said Fournier.
"When the motion was made in the school board meeting on Monday, the motion had four parts," said Fournier. "You have to decide on the law firm, on the accounting firm, you have to decide the replacement for the superintendent, and you have to decide a 90-day suspension as opposed to, say, 60 days or 30 days. To me, that says that there was some pre-planning in order for you to make that kind of motion. This is a flagrant misrepresentation of the intent of the objectives of the school board, which has five members."
Fournier was asked if she knew anything about the attorney, Jim Wood, and the accounting firm of Smith Dukes & Bucklew. She replied, "I swear on my Bible that October 5 was the first time I've heard it. Don't get me wrong, I know the name of the accounting firm. But anybody who said they have discussed with me the attorney and the accounting firm [in relation to the suspension of the superintendent] are liers."
When she was asked if she has any other information concerning the charges against Magann that is not reported in the media, Fornier said she has none. "I am still waiting for the board members to give me what info they have that form the basis of the vote they took," said Fournier.
Dr. Joseph Mitchell, school commissioner who abstained from the October 5 vote, said he did have a premonition that something was afoot, but no board member asked him to participate in the discussion that led to the decision to terminate Magann, which obviously was made before the board meeting on October 5. "Acting upon my belief about the collusion that had happened in the past, and having watched these people operate before," said Mitchell, "it was not a stroke of genius to see there are only so many things that these people could do against the superintendent." Mitchell said he prepared a press release, which he read into the records of the board meeting, on Saturday, and had it printed just before the meeting at Barton Academy. "However, the suspension for 90 days and the removal of the superintendent from the building was not something that I suspect would take place," said Mitchell. "A sanction, possible; requesting the superintendent to resign."
Mitchell said he was not provided with any information concerning the charges against Magann, which include "improper use of school funds, general mismanagement of the school system and insubordination," to make an informed decision. "If information was not provided, how can board members vote on something that they did not know?" asked Mitchell. "They can vote on it, but to me that's an uninformed vote. I am not saying that the superintendent should be here or gone. I am saying, if you want me to vote in an informed fashion on something, give me the information that has caused you to bring this matter to the board as a motion. If you want me to make a decision, what information, what data and what evidence would you have me to consider in order for me to vote for or against." It was reported at the October 5 meeting that president of school board Mrs. Andrews said specifics would be available prior to Magann's dismissal hearing.
Mitchell said Adams, Andrews and Warren conspired with special interest groups to exclude two school board members in a maneuver to dismiss superintendent Magann, even though Fournier and Mitchell together represent districts with nearly 50 percent of the students. As to the report in the Mobile daily, which says attempts were made by Andrews and Warren to reach him, Mitchell said, "my office takes messages. I have a computerized system that takes messages and holds them for me. I have an answering machine at home that would take up to 30 messages, telling me when they came. Also between the time the meeting was set and the time of the meeting, my house has not moved. They have people who deliver information and materials from the school board on a regular basis to me to my house, as they have done so in the past. I received the meeting notice on Friday; there was plenty of time to bring documents to me. And if the information is sensitive for a courier, the board president could call me, and I would make arrangement to get the information.
"If the board have been meeting with the [new] attorney, which my constitutents are paying for, without informing Hazel and me then my constituents are being denied their representation," said Mitchell. "My feeling is that this is unlawful and unethical. If the Ethics Commission does not look into this, I suspect some of my constitutents may ask them to look into it."
"This is a flagrant miscarriage of justice," said Fournier. "I am appalled that there is a general lack of sophistication and doing things that don't even give an appearance of justice." Fournier said the image of the school board "is less than perfect as it is" among voters. "It is now further tarnished," Fournier said. "How do we expect to get the trust of the public to support additional funding for the schools. The public will remember this for years to come.
"Let me share with you another item that illustrates the problem we have within the school board," added Fornier. "On the day the school board evaluated the superintendent in executive session in 1992, Mrs. Andrews said she had been contacted by a member of the State auditing team. She said this man contacted her." But when she called the state auditing agency the next day, Fournier said "the man informed her that he had not initiated the call to Mrs. Andrews; it was in fact Mrs. Andrews who contacted him." Fournier said this episode shows her that Andrews is sometimes less than truthful in making presentations to the board.
Fourner said the board were given recently an exit report of an audit, which was the first audit in four years, but she "can't find anything that indicates mismanagement of funds." She said that a lot of people do not understand these audit reports; "this comes with experience that you get from serving on boards," as she has done on a number of boards. "Until you get the final report, the exit report is nothing. Administrators will have an opportunity to respond to it before a final report is issued."
-- October 13, 1992