A school board embroiled in controversy over the departure of its lauded superintendent will consider a motion of censure against an ex-member who resigned following the superintendent’s resignation.
At its regular meeting Monday, the remaining members of the Lexington-Richland 5 school board will have “Discussion and Action Regarding Censure of Board Member Ed White,” according to a meeting agenda released on Thursday.
White, a Columbia attorney, will not be present for the meeting. He publicly resigned his board seat last week, citing his opposition to a previously unmentioned settlement agreement between the district and Superintendent Christina Melton. White then got up and left the meeting at the district office in Irmo.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the remaining six board members went into an unscheduled, closed-door executive session. After the board came back out into a public session, Melton emotionally announced her resignation as superintendent at the end of June.
White later publicly accused board members Nikki Gardner, Catherine Huddle and Ken Loveless of creating a “hostile and abusive work environment” for Melton and conspiring to force her to resign. Melton’s resignation came one month after she had been named the state’s superintendent of the year, a title she had to relinquish after her resignation.
The State also obtained a copy of the settlement agreement between Melton and the district signed by board members in executive session, in which the board agreed to pay Melton $226,368 and to “not make any negative or disparaging statements or remarks concerning each other to any third person, entity or organization,” at the risk of a $20,000 penalty. The legality of that agreement has been questioned, since it never received public discussion or a vote of the board as required by South Carolina’s open meetings law.
Board members have kept quiet about Melton’s resignation since the June 14 board meeting, citing a board policy that only Board Chair Jan Hammond speak to the media on behalf of the board. Hammond has also not responded to inquiries about Melton’s surprise resignation.
But on Thursday, June 17, the school district released an unsigned statement from the board that chided White, noting his resignation from the board will not be effective until July 14.
“As a current Board Member, Mr. White is charged with the duties and responsibilities to uphold his office as an elected official, until such a time as his resignation becomes effective,” the statement reads, including “maintaining the confidentiality of matters discussed in executive session, among other ethical principles.”
“It is disappointing to the Board that this news was shared in this careless way and without consideration of the District’s staff and students as we near the end of the 2020-21 school year and prepare to celebrate our graduates and end-of-year achievements,” the statement continues. “The public display of contempt and disdain for the situation stripped Dr. Melton of the ability to address her staff, students, and the community about her plans and completely undermined her authority to share her future in the manner that she deserved during this transitional period for our District.”
The settlement agreement obtained by The State laid out a different timeline for Melton’s departure. The original plan was for Melton to attend graduation ceremonies June 19, then announce her resignation via email on Monday, June 21, before taking her remaining vacation days for the remainder of the month. The change in schedule was apparently in response to White’s public refusal to go along with the agreement.
A censure motion would officially express the board’s disapproval of White’s conduct. But he has said he doesn’t plan to be involved in any other board activities before his resignation goes into effect next month. A call from The State to White on Thursday afternoon was not immediately returned.
A special election for the seat, which represents the Richland County side of the district, has yet to be set.