A Bibb County judge rejected a former high-ranking school officials request for an injunction against a multimillion-dollar lease for the Promise Center.
Judge Edgar Ennis threw out the request for a temporary restraining order Friday afternoon, saying the lease agreement was already approved by the courts during a bond validation hearing. The rent -- $5.75 million over 10 years -- supports the renovation and bond payments on the building, which is to house portions of a neighborhood improvement program called Macon Promise Neighborhood.
Ennis wrote that because neither Ron Collier, the systems former chief financial officer, or any other party sought to intervene in the bond validation proceedings, that the judgment explicitly covers the lease agreement and that legal advertisements announced the case, the lease cannot be challenged. The bonds were validated by Chief Judge S. Phillip Brown.
As part of his whistle-blower case, Collier argued that the lease agreement violated state law, including provisions that block long-term lease agreements.
In his ruling, Ennis noted that Colliers side showed some school board members didnt know a lease had been signed or that it was being used to support the bond issue. Among them were Sue Sipe, acting president of the school board, who testified she didnt know about the lease agreement, didnt remember the board authorizing the lease to be signed and didnt know the Promise Center would be leased.
Sipe also testified when she heard of a lease, she thought it might be for a dollar and never knew the lease would be used to support the bonds.
The $5.75 million in rent supports $4.61 million in bonds being used to renovate the building, the former Ballard-Hudson Middle School. The school system sold the building four years ago, as surplus, for $220,000.
Earlier Friday, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert told The Telegraph he had filed a friend of the court brief to make sure Ennis knew how valuable the Promise Center was to the areas future.
Reichert, an attorney, and Assistant City Attorney Christine R. Helms wrote in the brief that The Macon Promise Neighborhood collaborative will, in fact, bring immeasurable value to the Bibb County School District, the Unionville and Tindall Heights neighborhoods, and the community, especially if it has the ability to centralize resources and services at the Promise Center.
Reichert told The Telegraph, I didnt know whether anyone else would make that point, that theyd get hung up on the legal technicalities. Reichert said hed never filed such a brief before in his five years as mayor.
In other court actions, the school system filed a response in another case that had a hearing the same day as Colliers.
The school system wants to throw out Brad DeFores lawsuit, which seeks to throw out Superintendent Romain Dallemands employment contracts because the contracts dont match the boards public vote.
Differences range from whether Dallemand should be equipped with a laptop computer to whether Dallemand should get a full years $198,000 salary and benefits in the event his employment is terminated. School board members testified they cleared up final details in a closed-door session before the public vote on a motion by then-President Tommy Barnes.
In the brief, a school system attorney, Benton J. Mathis Jr., argues that the important, legal consideration is what the board thought it was voting on, not what the public was told the board was voting on. Mathis cites other court cases, including a Gwinnett County case that upheld an agreement that was never even voted on by a board.
Because there was no requirement that the terms and conditions of the 2013 Contract be read into a motion or otherwise disclosed prior to the vote, Barness failure to recite all of the terms and conditions in his motion does not affect the validity of the 2013 contract. All that is required under the Open Meetings Act is that the vote occurred in public and the minutes were made available, Mathis wrote. There is no dispute that this occurred.
Hollie Manheimer, an attorney who leads the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, said the states Open Meetings Act has always required public votes to keep the public informed.
Moreover, last year, in 2012, when the open meetings act was updated, there was special emphasis put on the fact that public agencies must vote in public, Manheimer wrote in an e-mail to The Telegraph. Therefore, any discrepancies should weigh in favor of the publics right to know; this is the intent of the law.
Its not clear when Ennis will rule on DeFores lawsuit. Dallemand has until early March to decide whether he wants to participate.
Most of the substance of Colliers lawsuit hasnt been heard yet.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.