Judge issues order blocking hiring of Graves

By Mike Gellatly - mgellatly@civitasmedia.com

LUMBERTON — A Superior Court judge today granted a temporary restraining order blocking the Board of Education from hiring Thomas Graves as the new schools superintendent.

Gary Locklear, one of three lawyers representing a citizens group that filed the lawsuit, said Judge Jack Hooks granted the order shortly after 1 p.m. and all that remained was for it to be served to prevent the school board from executing the contract. The school board is scheduled to meet today at 5 p.m., but it’s unclear if executing the contract is its plan.

The restraining order is in effect until a judge can hear the case, which could happen next week.

“We are extremely please that Judge Hooks recognized the urgency of this important matter …,” Locklear said in a statement. “His order is absolutely crystal clear in that it restrains the board from taking any action to hire Thomas Graves as the superintendent. Furthermore, it obligates the board as a whole and the six individuals that voted to hire Graves to take specific action regarding records in their possession, to include gathering business and personal records related to their board responsibilities.

“In addition, Judge Hooks ordered the public schools to turn over recordings of meetings the board has had, to include closed-session recordings. His order means that he determined there was a strong likelihood that the plaintiffs (two minor children in our school system) would succeed at a full trial on the merits.”

Locklear and fellow lawyers Tiffany Powers and Joshua Malcolm 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 individual members, Locklear said, are named to distinguish them from the four board members who voted against and a fifth who was absent.

Because they are named individually, they could be put at financial risk and cannot use the school board’s attorney, Grady Hunt, as their lawyer.

Those named in the lawsuit who voted to fire Lowry and hire Graves are Dwayne Smith, Randy Lawson, Brian Freeman, Peggy Wilkins-Chavis, Steve Martin and Charles Bullard. Dwayne Smith has said publicly that the school board violated its own policy by trying to hire Graves without advertising the position.

Freeman has said he did not realize they were violating policy by trying to hire Graves without a search, and Bullard said on Facebook he did not know he was voting to hire Graves for the permanent position, not interim. Bullard was not at the Jan. 10 meeting but voted by telephone.

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.

The Robesonian has filed an open records act request to get copies of all emails, text messages and other communications between board members regarding the position of superintendent.


By Mike Gellatly


Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @MikeGellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @MikeGellatly

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