Hancock school chief responds to contract vote by board
NEW CUMBERLAND, W.Va. — Hancock County Schools Superintendent Tim Woodward issued a statement Wednesday, reacting to Monday’s decision by the county’s board of education to cease negotiations on his contract.
The vote, which came during the board’s regular meeting, followed weeks of meetings, during which several residents have commented about allegations of wrongdoing by Woodward, as well as anonymous letters being circulated through the county.
In what he referred to as a “one-time statement,” Woodward alleges Monday’s vote by the board — which saw four members voting against continuing discussions and one member abstaining — was in violation of West Virginia’s open meetings laws as the meeting’s agenda contained no indication a vote was to take place. The agenda did include a notation of an executive session for “superintendent contract discussion.”
“Many employees and citizens were waiting to speak on the night of the actual vote,” Woodward stated. “These illegal actions were successful in preventing all citizens of this county to have a public voice. It is no longer possible for the board to correct its action. The board members have already demonstrated that they have predetermined how they would vote preceding any new legal vote. I would also have thought that simple human decency would have suggested that the superintendent at least be present.”
Woodward was absent from Monday’s meeting because of a medical emergency, according to a statement made during the meeting by board President Michelle Chappell and by a social media post by Woodward later that night.
Woodward also took issue with the recusal from the vote by board member Caroll Rosenlieb, who — after seeking an opinion from the state Ethics Commission — had cited a possible conflict as Woodward’s daughter is a tenant at a house in Morgantown that is owned by Rosenlieb’s family.
Woodward said he, too, contacted the Ethics Commission, explaining the financial arrangements for his daughter, and received an opinion from the commission’s legal counsel, Theresa M. Kirk.
“Upon review of my financial situation, there was no ethical reason this board member could not perform their statutory duty to vote on this matter,” Woodward stated, adding the opinion from Kirk was provided to Chappell and Rosenlieb prior to Monday’s meeting. “To my knowledge, this updated information was never presented to the public and the board member did not vote on the matter before them. It is questionable why a board member would choose to not utilize their statutory duty on such a major issue. This may be the most important decision any board member makes for the children to whom they are responsible.”
Woodward lamented the “circus-like atmosphere” at recent school board meetings, saying many residents have spoken to board members privately out of a feeling of intimidation or embarrassment and not wanting to be part of the environment at the meetings.
“This board has continually failed to protect the legal rights of myself and my staff. Names have been allowed to be used in open session and consequently forwarded through local media,” Woodward stated. “Allegations, without ‘any’ foundation whatsoever have consistently been tolerated. Further, board members themselves have written premeditated statements in which accusations of misconduct have been publicly recorded.”
As an example, Woodward referenced the presentation of a packet of information, reportedly containing an audio recording, by a resident to the board Monday. The resident alleged the information pointed to possible criminal activity. The information was placed into an envelope, sealed and signed by board members and presented to a sheriff’s deputy Monday night.
Woodward, however, states members of the board were well aware of the recording prior to Monday’s meeting.
“This item had been given to the board, by me, prior to its appearance in this public session,” Woodward stated, adding he has a text message from one member of the board asking to drop off the recording at Woodward’s office. “This item was given to the prosecutor and was not a criminal matter, nor was it ever necessary to deliver this to the prosecutor’s office. This item contained no criminal information. It could have easily been explained in the meeting by simply taking the item and privately contacting all parties to see if there was indeed an issue. The made-for-fiction, TV-like atmosphere, which was allowed to ensue was disgraceful and an embarrassment to this community as it was portrayed on local media.”
Woodward reiterated that none of the allegations made against him have any foundation in truth, adding he is disheartened that recent events have overridden the needs of the children in the county school system.
“Finally, let me say again, I have never been approached, accused or ever found to be guilty of any of the behaviors that has been alleged. It is frightening for all of us at the continuous leaking of confidential information from this board,” Woodward stated. “It should be of great concern to the public we serve and the employees who have cooperated with this board under promises of anonymity. I have presented to this board clear and precise evidence of unprofessional conduct. Members of this board have expressed concerns to me about the lack of confidentiality of this board. The board is fully aware that I have asked for reports to be made to the West Virginia Ethics Commission. There has been no response, which should be absolutely concerning to the taxpayers of this great county. Any investigations into allegations about the superintendent have been requested, personally, by me.”
Woodward said, because of legal issues, he will be making no further statement on the matter.