LUMBERTON — Three local attorneys acting on behalf of a newly formed citizens group filed a lawsuit this morning asking to delay the hiring of a new schools superintendent, saying that the process that was used to hire Thomas Graves was in violation of state law.
The lawsuit was filed in Superior Court in Robeson County right after the clerk’s office opened. It is on behalf of a group of students who are minors and asks for a judge to immediately issue a restraining order to block Graves’ hiring.
“This is going to be a flurry of activity,” said Joshua Malcolm, one of the three lawyers.
Meanwhile, the Board of Education plans an emergency meeting today on the situation, and two members of that board who supported firing Superintendent Tommy Lowry and hiring Graves appear to be having second thoughts. Graves has not signed a contract with the Board of Education, according to Grady Hunt, a lawyer for the school system.
Gary Locklear, lead attorney for the group that also includes Tiffany Powers, said the lawsuit names the school board as an entity and the six board members individually who orchestrated Lowry’s firing and the hiring of Graves. The board is being targeted as a single entity because the lawyers will be asking the judge to stop the actions taken by the board during its Jan. 10 regular meeting. The six board members are being named as individual defendants because they orchestrated and took actions while not meeting as members of the school board.
They are Dwayne Smith, Randy Lawson, Brian Freeman, Peggy Wilkins-Chavis, Steve Martin and Charles Bullard. Chairman Loistine Defreece, Mike Smith, Brenda Fairley Ferebee and Craig Lowry voted against, and John Campbell was absent from the meeting. Campbell has been vocal on Facebook in opposition of what happened.
Locklear, a former Superior Court judge, said the lawsuit will argue that the six members colluded outside the public purview to plan the firing and hiring. North Carolina law forbids a majority of a public board from meeting without the meeting being advertised and open to the public.
“We believe they were acting outside their capacity as board members,” Locklear said.
Locklear is confident a judge will issue the restraining order today. They also argue that the board, by not advertising the position, brokes rules it had set for itself.
“They violated their own policy, period,” Locklear said.
The lawyers are not charging for their services.
“We’ve been asked, but we haven’t been paid, and we don’t expect to,” Locklear said. “But we believe in the cause.”
Locklear said the lawsuit is about the future of the school system and the county.
“It’s not about Tommy Lowry,” Locklear said. “It’s not about him.”
Meanwhile support for Graves hiring appears to be eroding.
Freeman, an at-large board member, previously said he was not aware that board policy required the position to be advertised, and Bullard, who represents District 4, said by Facebook that he thought he was voting to hire Graves as interim superintendent.
Bullard was not at the meeting, and participated by telephone.
He and Freeman joined the board in July.
The school board will meet today at 5 p.m. 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 purpose of the meeting is to discuss issues related to the position of superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County,” a post to the Public Schools of Robeson County Facebook page reads.
In related action, a public forum on the state of the county school board has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in the Robeson County Department of Social Service building training room.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly.