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January 26, 1993

More Fear and Loathing:

Random Notes on the Termination Hearing of the School Superintendent

by Edmund Tsang

Termination hearing against suspended School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Magann resumed on January 19, 1993, after a 4-week hiatus. But after only one day of testimony by three witnesses for Magann, the school board met in two consecutive closed-door sessions on January 20 and 21 without holding the public hearing. They then announced that the hearing would be postponed until January 26. And suddenly there are talks of a settlement.

Without the consent of the majority board, who on January 19 were still bent on firing Magann, there could be no talk of a settlement. That the majority board of Jeanne Andrews, president of the school board, N.Q. Adams, and "Sugar" Warren hold the upper hand in deciding the course of action was evident from Day One: On October 5, the 4-part resolution that suspended Magann and set in motion the termination hearing was passed by a 3-1-1 vote, with school commissioner Hazel Fournier voting against the resolution and Dr. Joseph Mitchell abstaining. On December 14, the first day of the termination hearing, Mitchell offered a motion to dismiss all charges against Magann because they were vague and he had not been provided with the information to evaulate the school superintendent. His motion was defeated by a vote of 3-to-2, with Andrews, Adams and Warren forming the majority. On December 18 the motion to postpone the hearing was again passed by a 3-2 vote, with Fournier and Mitchell voting against the delay. On January 19, when Mitchell again offered the motion to dismiss the charges against Magann on the ground that the hearing is costing taxpayers' money, because witnesses so far had not substantiated the charges, the motion was again defeated by the same vote.

According to Magann, he and his attorneys "were prepared to go" on January 20 and 21 when the board went into executive session and canceled the hearing. On January 22 the Mobile Register reported that Robert Campbell III, the school board attorney who also chaired the hearing, said the board was willing to enter negotiation with Magann's attorneys to end the hearing.

So what changed the hearts of the majority board? Can it be the reason offered by Campbell in announcing the negotiation? "You weigh the circumstances of terminating a superintendent in the community, how it detracts from the educational needs of the students, how it detracts from the education process in the community," Campbell said.

It's difficult to imagine that the majority board of Andrews, Adams, and Warren understood "how it detracts from the education process in the community" when they initiated the termination hearing last October, amid charges by Mitchell and Fournier, both African-Americans, that the white majority board held secret meetings excluding them to plan Magann's firing. Evidence seems to substantiate that charge [see "Now It Can Be Told," Harbinger Vol. XI, No. 2]. It is just as hard to imagine that Adams, who for several years until November, 1992 was a director on the Mobile City Industrial Development Board (IDB) while serving as a school commissioner and the school board's finance committee chairman since 1988, understands "how it detracts from the educational needs of the students" when companies financed by IDB bonds could continue to escape paying millions of dollars in property tax that are legally owed to the school system [see "Industry and Land, but No Money," Harbinger Vol. XI, No. 7].

Perhaps it's divine providence. Or, as Mrs. Fournier puts it succinctly, "Everyone can reach the age of reason."

During testimony by school system spokesman Gene Tysowsky in December, it was learned that the school board had originally favored the proposal by Magann, which would ask voters for a 15.5 mill increase in property tax to raise the needed funds for the public schools, but it changed its mind after spring break to support instead a 9-part referendum offered by the Mobile legislative delegation, which would have raised a total of 29 mills a year for ten years. The referendum was defeated by a 2-1 margin last September.

Now, it turns out that Magann's proposal might have been the right one all along. Recently the Mobile Register reported that Dr. Semoon Chang, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of South Alabama, said he has analyzed last September's vote and believes Mobile voters would support a 15-mill increase in property tax to fund the public schools.

Three charges levied by the majority board against Magann are related to his alleged failure to support the September referendum. For his defense, Magann said he "took all reasonable actions consistent with the board's positions short of lying to the public about specific aspects of the bill when direct questions were put to [me] by persons with whom [I] came in contact." Magann previously had said the "Cafeteria Bill" would not solve the school's funding problem, which is the reason why he could not support the referendum; but he said he would not fight against it either.

Ed McFadden, an investigator in the District Attorney's office who was the first witness called On January 19, 1993, said he was commissioned by school board president Jeanne Andrews to go to Gainesville, Florida in 1991 and perform a background investigation of Magann. Andrews tried twice to lead McFadden into giving testimony that would insinuate Magann is guilty of some of the charges that the majority board brought against him, such as misuse of funds, but the tactic backfired on both occasions.

McFaddan was the chief investigator with the school system until he left the service of the school system in December 1991. Andrews suggested that perhaps Magann wanted McFadden's contract terminated so the school superintendent could begin misusing funds. However, it was learned through questioning of McFadden by Hazel Fournier that other people in the community also did not want him to stay on with the school system, including one legislator. "Who is that legislator?" asked William Kimbrough, Magann's attorney. "Taylor Harper," said McFadden, adding that he was pleased that Magann defended him on that occasion.

McFadden also said Andrews called him last summer to express her concern that Magann had retained computer consultants as employees of the school system beyond what was approved by the board, and that she couldn't find out how much money was spent on the consultants. Under re-direct examination by Kimbrough, McFadden said school board president Andrews could have obtained the information on how much was spent on the computer consultants from Charles Ratcliffe, school system business manager. Leading MdFadden, Kimbrough said "Mr. Ratcliffe wrote the checks." McFadden also said he suggested to Andrews that she contact Ratcliffe but he did not know if Andrews did or didn't talk to Ratcliffe. "To my best recollection," said McFadden, "No."

You know it's a fear and loathing trial when guerrilla literature start showing up at Barton Academy and elsewhere in the community while the hearing was in session. One came from Bubba. Typed in the form of a legal document, it reads:

In The Kangeroo Court for Mobile County, State of Alabama

Mobile County School Board (minus 2), Plaintiff
Dr. Doug Magann, Defendent

The document lists the charges against Magann, which include charges 25 to 33:

25. Rude twice one morning;
26. Rude twice two mornings;
27. Rude and no one noticed;
28. Rude and didn't know it;
29. Rude 12/2/92 (occasion unknown)
30. Rude 12/3/92 (witness missing)
31. Rude 12/4/92 (exact time unknown);
32. Rude 12/5/92 (probably happened at home);
33. Rude (attorney unable to determine which year '92 or '93).

Three politicians, State Senators Steve Windom and Ann Bedsole, and Rep. Taylor Harper, testified in December, 1992 that they were offended by Magann's rudeness.

January 26, 1993

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