LORAIN — A heated school board meeting ended with board member Jim Smith announcing that he had filed a grievance with the Lorain County Bar Association against the board’s attorney.
Smith said he filed the grievance against Anthony Giardini because Giardini should have notified the board about a lawsuit filed in federal court in August against the board and Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson.
Giardini said Smith had no right to file a grievance against him with the bar.
“The problem with that is that I don’t represent Jim Smith … and therefore he has no right to file a grievance against me or any other lawyer besides his own,” Giardini said.
“The only party who could file a grievance if there was one, and there’s not, would be the board itself and that would be done by majority vote,” Giardini said, adding that the superintendent also has the power to file a grievance.
“The superintendent represents the district and she is fully informed of this lawsuit, knows it very, very well, and we’ve discussed it,” Giardini said after the meeting.
Atkinson did not return calls for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.
Giardini said he does not inform the board of legal matters until they reach the point where he needs board members to take action. Prior to that point, Giardini said he briefs Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson on legal matters.
Smith said regardless of whether Atkinson was informed, Giardini should have notified the board.
“Here’s the thing: He is the board’s attorney, he is not the superintendent’s attorney,” Smith said of Giardini. Smith said he filed the grievance online and said the bar association should notify him within 48 hours if they accept or reject the grievance.
During the meeting when Smith asked Giardini why he didn’t inform the board of the lawsuit, board president Tony Dimacchia interjected, saying that the board has never been notified of every legal action the district is involved in.
Afterward Dimacchia said he found Smith’s actions “disturbing.”
“He is absolutely out of line, inappropriate and it’s absolutely unacceptable. He has no right to file a grievance against a school attorney as a board member. He doesn’t speak and represent this board of education. The only time when this board speaks is when we make a decision and approve something in a public meeting.”
Dimacchia also said nothing was amiss about the board not being informed of the lawsuit.
“We don’t do the day-to-day operations of this school district … There is a proper process that goes through any district or any organization. … When there is an issue and it gets to a certain point and it is legitimate and serious enough for the board to hear it, then we will deal with it at that time,” the board president said. “This is just Jim Smith undermining this board of education. It is very disturbing to me that one board member does not support this district.”
Smith, however, said he is simply doing his duty.
“I’m fairly certain some board members are being clued in on some things and other board members are not,” Smith said. “My job, based on the oath of office I took, is to uphold the laws and to represent the district … Am I supposed to not say anything?”
The lawsuit in question was filed by Aliceson Humphries, who was almost fired for a 2009 incident in which she was accused of choking a student during a field trip to the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland. The lawsuit claims Humphries was discriminated against upon returning to work after Atkinson recommended her termination, but the board suspended her without pay for 30 days.
In other business, the school board voted on a measure opposing Ohio Senate Bill 5, the legislation that would curtail collective bargaining rights for public employees, including public school teachers, in Ohio.
In doing so, it joined other school boards and Lorain City Council in opposing the bill.
Dimacchia and other board members said, if passed, they believed it would be detrimental to the school district. The school board also unanimously passed a resolution in support of Issue 9, the district’s 23.83-mill renewal levy on the May ballot. Treasurer Dale Weber has said the levy will not raise taxes for residents and will effectively collect 12.89 mills after the auditor adjusts the rate.
“On some things we don’t all agree, but this is an issue we need to unanimously support,” Vice President Timothy Williams said.
Contact Kaitlin Bushinski at 329-7144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.