An undisclosed dispute between Groveport Madison Local Schools and the district’s bus transportation company has led to the school board hiring a second set of attorneys to seek a resolution to the conflict.
By a 3-1 vote at a special Groveport Madison school board meeting on Aug. 7 (much of which was held in closed session), the board approved hiring the law firm of Fusco, Mackey, Mathews, and Gill to serve as the district’s legal counsel for all matters concerning transportation services at a rate not to exceed $200 per hour. Board member John Kershner said this is a lower rate than that of Brickler and Eckler, the district’s long time law firm, which he said charges between $250 to $300 an hour.
By the same vote, the board authorized the new law firm to handle all board communications regarding transportation.
Board members Kershner, Nathan Slonaker, and Duane Dailey supported the move while Dr. Naomi Sealey opposed it. Board member Mary Tedrow was not present at the meeting.
The board remains contracted with Bricker and Eckler for all other legal services.
"I don’t think we need two sets of attorneys," said Sealey. "It’s not frugal to hire another law firm. I think we should keep working with Bricker and Eckler and work with them on the transportation issues. We’ve already wasted quite a bit of money this summer on legal fees about this."
In an interview after the meeting, Slonaker said Fusco, Mackey, Mathews, and Gill were brought on board because of their litigation experience. He said one of the attorneys is a former Columbus city prosecutor.
"We’re considering legal action, but I’m not at liberty to go into further details," said Slonaker. "We spent a lot of time researching and talking to firms. This was not just a case of picking one out of the phone book…Bricker and Eckler have given us great advice over the years and will continue to do so on many matters. The (new firm) has just been brought on for the transportation issue. I believe in previous years the board has brought on other attorneys in special cases."
Sealey made her own separate motion to accept the bus transportation company’s settlement offer, expressed in an Aug. 4 letter to the district, and to include the district’s response to the letter, but it failed 3-1 with only Sealey supporting it.
"This conflict is not in the best interests of the district. We ought to try to resolve this peacefully without more attorneys," said Sealey. "School starts Aug. 20. I need to make sure school starts on time and we have buses. I’m tired of this. We’ve spent eight weeks this summer on transportation. We need to talk about an emergency levy because, if it doesn’t pass, we’ll be in debt."
"I don’t think in the midst of mediation that it is appropriate to discuss this at this time," said Kershner of Sealey’s motion. "The Ohio Revised Code 2710.03 declares mediation communication is privileged. This should not be brought up in public."
"I don’t think mediation should cease, but the action we’re taking could get us there (a resolution) quicker," continued Kershner. "Our (board members’) goals are the same, we just differ on the approach."
Sealey said she believes the hiring of more attorneys is "a waste of taxpayers’ money."
"We don’t need legal action. There’s a way to talk and settle disputes," said Sealey. "(The transportation company) gave us an offer and we made our changes."