Lawyers spent five hours Friday attacking and defending the Bibb County school system over a pair of proposed restraining orders in fights unlikely to end soon.
Superior Court Judge Edgar Ennis said school Superintendent Romain Dallemand should be given 30 days to decide whether he wants to fight a lawsuit that seeks to throw out his employment contracts and, ultimately, his employment itself.
Ennis declined to rule from the bench on an injunction request by former Chief Financial Officer Ron Collier to block rent payments on the Promise Center. The bulk of Colliers case, however, wasnt heard Friday, and it may not be resolved until summer.
Ennis said Dallemand should be formally notified about Lizella resident Brad DeFores lawsuit over his contracts, though Ennis said Dallemand surely knows about it.
If he chooses to intervene (in the suit), then I will rule on the legality of it at the time, Ennis said.
Ennis gave no other time lines for the cases. Jerry Lumley, Colliers attorney, said he expected that the restraining order portion of Colliers case could be decided in the coming weeks, sooner than DeFores injunction bid.
DeFores lawsuit contends that the Dallemand contracts -- one signed Dec. 3 and the first contract from 2011 -- are flawed, including major provisions of the Dec. 3 contract that were not actually addressed in then-school board President Tommy Barnes motion to issue a contract.
Ennis indicated he thought the school board debated behind closed doors a contract close to what was actually signed.
It is materially similar, that is, it is not materially different from the document presented to Dr. Dallemand for his signature, Ennis said.
School board attorney Patrick Millsaps testified to that point under questioning from another school system attorney, saying he mostly added attachments and cleaned up typos.
DeFores attorney, Charlie Cox, is arguing that the boards actual vote, as reflected in the minutes, controls what the contract is. Cox also maintains that the school board didnt give proper notification that it could vote on Dallemands contract Dec. 3, violating the states open meeting law.
Ironically, most of the testimony Friday centered on what had happened during the closed-door portions of that meeting.
Barnes and acting school board President Sue Sipe testified that board members had resolved all their questions about the contract during a 49-minute closed-door session just before board members voted on it. Sipe still voted against the contract because it was not in the best interest of the students and the taxpayers of Bibb County, based on a mixture of pay and perks, she said.
The school board voted unanimously Thursday to allow at least some discussion of what had happened in the closed session discussion. Attorneys argued Friday about how much could be discussed by board members and Millsaps.
The hearing on the injunction in DeFores suit took most of the courts time Friday.
Arguments over Colliers request for an injunction against the lease agreement for the Promise Center lasted about an hour.
The lease agreement includes payments of $575,000 a year over a decade for half of the former Ballard-Hudson Middle School, which is intended to host programs for the Macon Promise Neighborhood initiative in and around Macons Unionville neighborhood.
Collier filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the school system, claiming he was punished for refusing to write a $1 million check to pay for renovations at the Promise Center until he knew they were for valid educational purposes.
Sipe testified she didnt expect a $5.75 million lease, either.
I recall someone throwing out it would be nominal, like a dollar, Sipe said.
Atlanta attorney Benton Mathis argued for the school system that the lease agreement had already been validated by a court when the Macon-Bibb County Urban Development Authority issued $4.7 million in loans to cover renovations in the building.
This lease agreement is fully, finally and forever adjudicated, Mathis said.
Attorney James J. Thomas II of Atlanta, representing building landlord, Central Georgia Partnership for Individual and Community Development, said Colliers injunction had no basis in law and looks to me like a publicity stunt for some political motive.
Lumley said no one had challenged his claims that the lease agreement violates state law and the state Constitution. The lease seems to exist only to pay off the partnerships loans, and neither the school board nor the public knew taxpayer money was at stake.
This was all nothing but a scheme to get the taxpayers responsible for paying a $4.7 million loan that a private entity took out, he said.
During a portion of the hearing on the Collier lawsuit, about 100 people filled every bench seat in Courtroom D. The number of observers dwindled to a few dozen by the time the hearing ended around 4 p.m.
Writer Andrea Castillo contributed to this report. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.