Livingston SB has tense, cryptic debate on investigation into possible leave violations

Details withheld in open session

In a tense and cryptic exchange, Livingston Parish’s superintendent of schools fielded questions Thursday night from a board member about an investigation the superintendent conducted into possible misuse of leave.

The School Board narrowly defeated, on a 5-4 vote, a motion to discuss the investigation in executive session, leaving board attorney Mark Boyer to warn the officials they could discuss the matter publicly only in the most general of terms.

Superintendent John Watson said he did not find any violations of the district’s leave policies but did find a violation of an employee attendance policy.

Later, the board members entered executive session to discuss whether any possible legal action should follow the investigation. No action was taken following their return to regular session.

Watson said after the meeting he already has taken “appropriate action” regarding the employee involved, but that action cannot be disclosed due to state laws governing employee privacy.

Board member Keith Martin, who first brought the issue to Watson’s attention, said after the meeting that he was not satisfied that the investigation was thorough.

“But I did what I had to do, and I did all I could do,” Martin said.

Boyer, the attorney, warned board members during the meeting that they could not divulge the names, departments or other identifying information about the personnel involved in the investigation.

“You just simply cannot get into that information, and I would ask the board to be mindful of that, be cautious of that,” Boyer said.

Martin lobbed numerous questions at Watson about the steps taken in conducting the investigation.

In a particularly tense exchange, Martin asked whether Watson had questioned “everyone in the department.”

Watson said the district’s policy for conducting investigations did not require that.

“So, in other words, you didn’t do a complete investigation,” Martin said.

“I did a very complete investigation, sir,” Watson responded.

“I disagree,” Martin said.

“You have a right to your opinion, and I respect that,” Watson said.

Martin also questioned whether Watson followed up on accusations of harassment following the initial complaint.

Board member Buddy Mincey Jr. called a point of order, saying the investigation was about leave policies, not harassment.

Watson said he investigated all accusations brought to him in writing, but he could not control “what people are saying on the street — including what you (Martin) are saying on the street.”

Martin voted in favor of an executive session to discuss the investigation, joined by Mincey, Sid Kinchen and Malcolm Sibley.

Board members Kellee Hennessee Dickerson, Milton Hughes, Karen Schmitt, Jeff Cox and James Watson voted against the call for a private discussion.

Dickerson also cast the lone vote against discussing any possible legal action on the matter in executive session.

Dickerson said after the meeting that she believes the issue should be discussed in the open.