Lawsuit on superintendent’s contract allowed to continue

Posted 11/17/17

By ED HOWELL

Daily Mountain Eagle

The Alabama Supreme Court has reversed a circuit judge’s decision, allowing a lawsuit to challenge whether an employment contract between the Walker County …

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Lawsuit on superintendent’s contract allowed to continue

Posted

By ED HOWELL

Daily Mountain Eagle

The Alabama Supreme Court has reversed a circuit judge’s decision, allowing a lawsuit to challenge whether an employment contract between the Walker County Board of Education and Superintendent of Education Jason Adkins is constitutional.

Meanwhile, Adkins and attorney Ken Guin traded words in the aftermath, with Adkins indicating Guin was taking revenge and Guin saying that Adkins was “nuts.”

The lawsuit, filed by Walker County Board of Education employee Sheila Mote Ingle, was sent back on Nov. 9 to Walker County Circuit Court for the case to proceed against Adkins and the county school board. Guin said a retired circuit judge from Colbert County, N. Pride Tompkins, was appointed to the case by Chief Justice Lyn Stuart after all local judges recused themselves.

The case was filed on Aug. 4, 2016, in Walker County Circuit Court on Ingle’s behalf by Guin, whose wife, Tanya, was terminated by the board and who is running advertising indicating that she is running for superintendent next year. Adkins also has indicated he is running for re-election. Board employee Joel Hagood is also running for the position.

The court said in its 21-page ruling that it has “continually held that taxpayers have standing to seek an injunction against public officials to prevent illegal payments from public funds. This standing is based on the fact that taxpayers have an equitable ownership in the public funds and will be responsible for replenishing the pubic funds if those funds are misappropriated, and, thus, a taxpayer suffers an injury when public funds are illegally spent.

“Thus, Ingle has standing as a taxpayer to seek an injunction against Adkins and the board members in their official capacities to prevent illegal payments from pubic funds. Furthermore, because Ingle has standing to pursue this claim as a taxpayer, we need not discuss whether she has public-interest standing to pursue this claim in the name of the state.” 

The court said in the decision it did not consider the actual merits of the case, as laid out in arguments in the appeal, as the court held they are “not ripe for consideration at this stage of litigation.” 

The lawsuit had earlier been dismissed in circuit court.

According to the Supreme Court decision, when Adkins was elected in 2010, the board had set an annual salary of $139,500 for superintendent, which the board raised by 2 percent in 2013. On Dec. 11, 2014, the board entered into an employment contract with Adkins, to take effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

The contract had a base salary of $159,500 and provided for salary increases, as well as an in-county travel stipend of $1,000 a month. The board modified the contract on Nov. 12, 2015, to increase the compensation and provide him a cell phone paid for by the board.

The cell phone allowed Adkins “to participate in outside activities that do not interfere with his duties as superintendent and that are approved by the board, and guaranteering that, if ‘this agreement be permitted to expire,’ Adkins could return to a tenured position with the Walker County School System.” 

In a statement, Ken Guin, who formerly served as the House majority leader in the Alabama Legislature, said, “I know of no elected official with an employment contract. President Trump, Gov. Kay Ivey, Sen. Greg Reed, Rep. Connie Rowe and (Walker County Commission) Chairman Jerry Bishop have at least two things in common. They are all elected officials and none of them have an employment contract. It is common sense that the only contract an elected official can have is with electorate.”

He said all board members have to itemize their mileage and submit a payment voucher.

“Adkins has been paid more than $30,000 for in-county mileage since January 2015,” Guin said. “In his first four years in office he was paid less than $5,000 and was required to submit itemized travel vouchers just like all other employees. This is just one of many examples we are contesting.” 

Ingle said in the same statement, “I feel vindicated. I was very disappointed when the judge ruled to dismiss my case several months ago. I had prayed a lot before filing this case, and I knew the massive contract payments being made to Dr. Adkins were illegal. However, I was also concerned that my job would be in danger or I would be harassed at work. The administration has a history of retaliation whenever it is challenged.” 

Contacted on Wednesday afternoon, Adkins responded with his own statement Thursday morning.

“Several years ago, in one conversation, Ken Guin asked me for three things. He wanted to be the board’s attorney, he wanted his wife to have a job in the Central Office and there were two people he said he did not think should ever be principals in the Walker County School System,” Adkins said. “I do not know about the last request he made at that time, because he did not reveal the names of the two individuals he was referring to. I did not honor his first two requests.

“A short time later, after Ken Guin was ousted from the Legislature, he came to me and asked that the board put him on the payroll as a consultant/lobbyist. This was right after it was revealed that Ken Guin had made close to a million dollars in nine years from Bevill State when there were those that said they had never actually seen him on campus. I do not remember the particulars, but do recall something about letters.”

Adkins said he did not think the system could afford Guin, so the board did not hire him.

“Ken Guin let it be known in a conversation with a board employee that he had asked me for some things that I did not do, and that he would have his day,” Adkins said. “True to his threat, Ken Guin has attacked the Walker County Board of Education with pitiless intensity. This is the third litigation with Ken Guin the Walker County Board has been forced to endure in the past year alone. Each one of these has been costly. Each time, the trial judge has ruled in our favor.

“I do not ordinarily address allegations and lawsuits in the paper. However, I feel compelled to respond to the most recent statements by Mr. Ken Guin. I will not give any validity to any statement about behavior at the Walker County Board of Education relative to the treatment of employees. There are many of them; they are easy to find and easy to talk to. All of them have worked alongside me for years. Mr. Guin is on a political witch-hunt, and it is time for me to respond.” 

He said the Alabama Supreme Court did not conclude that Adkins nor any board member did anything wrong, saying it only decided that a tax-paying citizen of the United States has a right to sue.

“The Supreme Court in fact upheld the lower court’s dismissal of most of Mr. Guin’s case, and made absolutely no ruling on the merits of the remainder of it,” he said.

“Secondly, there are many elected superintendents in the state of Alabama who have contracts with their board,” Adkins said. “They all have salary, travel, and benefits that go along with their contracts, just as I do with mine. Boards of education all across the state set the salary of their superintendent. The Walker County superintendent has been increased over the years by the Walker County Board of Education. The travel package for several previous superintendents at the Walker County Board of Education was $14,000 per year, or $56,000 over the course of four years. The point is this: Travel allowances, contracts and superintendent raises are nothing new to our board.

It is also important to note that superintendents do not set their salaries,” Adkins continued. “They do not have the authority or capacity. That responsibility falls solely as a function of the Board. In fact, the salary of all superintendents, elected or not, are set by their respective Board. If the Board so chooses to eliminate a portion of the salary or benefits of the next contract it chooses to approve, it certainly can do so.”

He said the Code of Alabama, Section 16-9-12, states, “In counties which the maximum salary of the county superintendent of education is not fixed by law (such as is the case in Walker County), the county superintendent of education shall receive such compensation, including salary and travel expenses, as the county board of education shall direct.”

Adkins said attempts by Guin to compare him with Trump, Ivey, Reed or other elected officials he mentioned is misleading. “Their salaries are set by statute. The Walker County Board of Education’s is not,” he said.

“Since this is true, the relationship between the Walker County Board of Education and the Walker County superintendent must be described and memorialized in some fashion,” he said. “This board, like many others, has chosen to do it by both resolution and contract. I can’t imagine that a competent trial attorney would not know these things, but one of two things are for certain: Either Ken Guin is not very good at what he does or Ken Guin has an agenda.

“The contract the Walker County Board of Education approved is very similar in salary and benefits to the one approved by the Jasper City Board of Education the same year mine was approved,” adding the original contract adopted by Jasper was more lucrative than the one adopted by the county board.

“It included more perks, and even now the base salary is higher. There is nothing wrong with that. These are very difficult jobs,” he said.

“The board and I look forward to proving our case in court,” Adkins said.

Asked about Adkins’ statements concerning Guin’s actions, Guin responded, “He’s nuts.” At another point, he said, “He’s gone off the deep end.” 

Guin said, “I debated whether to file this lawsuit,” noting that Adkins met with Mrs. Guin in July 2016. He said Adkins told her he going to have to put a teacher’s aide at the high school where their 16-year-old daughter attended. The Guins earlier had made allegations about the aide in the past, concerning alleged actions concerning their daughter. Guin said he hesitated about filing the lawsuit as he worried it might affect his wife, but after Mrs. Guin was told the aide was placed at the school, “I basically said, ‘To hell with it,’ and within a week I filed this lawsuit. I told Tanya I was tired of dealing with (Adkins). He had been harassing Tanya for a couple of years.” 

Three weeks later, he said Adkins suspended Tanya from her system position. After a hearing in August, she was dismissed from her position as principal of Carbon Hill Elementary/Jr. High School, an action the Guins have been fighting on appeal.

Guin said he told Adkins in 2010 if the board ever decided to hire a general counsel, he would like to apply. Also, at that time Mrs. Guin was interested in a position and he told Adkins she was interested in that, although later it was rolled into another position and by then Tanya had no interest in the job and didn’t apply.

He denied telling Adkins about two people that he allegedly thought should not be principals. He did say that Mrs. Guin once said she would like some opinion about some people who might be put in jobs at her school, as she felt employees had been placed at the school without consulting her. “I never mentioned the principal,” he said.

Guin said he probably asked about being a consultant and lobbyist, as he asked several entities about the possibility. Also denied ever telling a board member that he would “have his day.” 

“That’s not true,” he said, later adding, “Filing a lawsuit is not getting back at somebody. If I’m going to get back at somebody, I’m going to do something else. I file lawsuits as a business. That’s what I do for a living.”