Injunction imposed on Manila School Board

Monday, June 9, 2003

A hearing was held in the Mississippi County Court in Blytheville on Monday with Manila Superintendent Charolette Wagner requesting the court to impose an injunction preventing the Manila School Board from hiring a new superintendent. Wagner's contract was not renewed by the school board in January. Wagner has served as superintendent for two years.

A temporary injunction was filed and granted on March 7 by Osceola attorney Hunter Williams on behalf of Wagner to prevent the board from hiring a new superintendent until a hearing could be set. The first hearing was set for April 9 and had been postponed twice.

Mrs. Wagner was hired with the condition that she would make satisfactory progress toward certification as superintendent. Wagner enrolled in and completed courses at Arkansas State University, Harding University and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and received certification in December.

In her complaints, Wagner stated that as a 56-year old woman she would not have completed the courses and taken the exam, incurring all the expenses, if not for oral promises of a renewed contract as superintendent.

Circuit Judge Victor Hill ruled to impose an injunction preventing the Manila School Board from hiring a replacement for Superintendent Wagner until her case has been heard on its merits. The decision came down on Monday evening after a full day of testimonies and attorney arguments.

He also declared that the board could not undermine Wagner as superintendent during the trial preparations.

Early in the day Judge Hill ruled on several issues including a request by the defendants' (school board members) attorneys, Mike Gibson and Paul Blume, for Judge Hill to recuse himself stating several reasons. Judge Hill ruled not to recuse.

Also Attorney Mike Bearden, representing Jimmy White, Harold Vines and Dr. E.A. Shaneyfelt, asked that his clients be allowed to intervene in Wagner's lawsuit.

Bearden's motion said the three are taxpayers and own property and vote for the school board. He stated that Wagner was represented by Williams and the school board members were represented by Blume and Gibson and his clients are not represented by either side. He said the issues are different.

The complaint called for board members to be enjoined on the grounds of malfeasance, abuse of elected office and waste of taxpayers' money. He commented that the board had no need for two attorneys.

Gibson requested that White, Vines and Shaneyfelt not be brought in the middle of a law suit.

"Sure the citizens have a right to file suit, but is paying a superintendent illegal? Is hiring a superintendent illegal? If parties want to file suit go forward but not intervene in this one," Gibson said.

Bearden said there are different reasons and different positions, but the same facts involving the same parties in the case and allowing his clients to intervene would be economical.

After much discussion, Judge Hill ruled that the three could intervene.

Judge Hill said he would listen to witnesses and hear arguments.

Gibson's objection was noted.

Former Manila School Board member George Flagg was called as a witness. He served on the board from 1997 to 2002.

Flagg said he did remember discussing Wagner not receiving as much pay as the former superintendent because of lack of certification.

"I don't recall a time frame. I was not sure how many schooling hours it would take. We talked about raising salary after she received her certification."

Flagg said it was his personal belief that if Wagner met the requirements the job would be hers.

Following a lunch break, Mrs. Wagner took the stand for over two hours.

She said that if she had not thought her contract would be renewed, she would not have taken the classes and taken time away from her mother who was ill and living in Wagner's home under 24 hour care.

Wagner said that the school board never gave her a reason for not renewing her contract.

Gibson asked Wagner if a number of teachers came to her recently "to get you out of there."

Her response was, "A small group came to me and asked me to be a bigger person."

He said, "The whole community is not for you, right?"

When asked if she wanted to retain the position as superintendent she said "yes."

School Board member Jackie Hill was called to the stand.

"As far as I'm concerned, she has done an excellent job," Hill said.

Gibson asked Hill about being sued by Mrs. Wagner.

"Whether I'm sued or not, right is right," Hill said.

"In addition to being sued, you wrote a letter to Hunter Williams (Wagner's attorney) asking if you could be of any help. You are assisting them in this case," Gibson said.

Gibson said that one defendant can't be sued and work against co-defendants and asked the judge once again to dismiss. His request was denied.

Judge Hill heard all closing arguments before making his ruling.

He also said he was not going to tell the defendants they had to fire one of their attorneys.

"Education of our children is a trust. I've heard no mention of the children," Judge Hill said.

Gibson said an appeal to the Arkansas Court of Appeals will be filed on behalf of the School Board members in an attempt to get the injunction reversed. He said he was not surprised with the outcome of Monday's hearing.

Bearden said at this point his clients will get to intervene.

"I think the school board has been able to run rampant. To have a meeting and terminate Wagner with no complaint and then take a potential replacement back into executive session smells," Bearden said.

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