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Lycée board violated open meetings laws in ousting principal

The vote was unanimous. Board members for Lycée Français de la Nouvelle Orléans on April 2 agreed in a public meeting to accept the resignation of founding principal and school leader Jill Otis.

But what the dozen or so onlookers gathered during that meeting probably didn’t know was that for days leading up to this decision, board members had been emailing one another — in violation of Louisiana’s public meetings law — to discuss how to force Otis from her post.

On March 27 and 28, emails obtained by The Lens show, the board discussed whether it would offer Otis severance in exchange for her quiet resignation.

“I appreciate the fact that you are trying to organize your thoughts prior to the meeting with Jill,” board member Jean Montes wrote early on March 28 in an email to six other board members, before going on to list four different ways the board could either demand Otis’ resignation or terminate her.

Within six and a half hours, a majority of the board agreed, one email response at a time, to present Otis with an attorney-crafted statement prior to their scheduled April 2 board meeting. The proposal offered Otis an emeritus title and “pay through the end of the official school year, June 30, 2012” in exchange for her immediate resignation.

“I am in support of this message,” Montes wrote.

“Ok,” board member Paige Saleun responded.

“I think the statement is fine,” board members Hemalatha Banagada and Thomas Klingler each wrote.

“Ok by me,” Allen Kelly said.

Now, auditors have cited the financially struggling school for paying Otis nearly $30,000 through mid-July without board approval or a written contract. That’s because the board never voted on the matter during a public meeting, records show.

When questioned by The Lens, current Lycée board president Jean Montes on Friday acknowledged his board had violated public meetings laws during the March email exchange, but suggested the board’s subsequent actions made the illegality inconsequential.

“We cured the violation on April 2, 2012, during an open meeting where the Board entered executive session to discuss this particular personnel issue,” Montes told The Lens by email, saying he consulted with the board’s attorneys at Adams and Reese law firm regarding the matter.

While public school boards do have the option of discussing certain matters in private, Louisiana’s open meetings law requires the public be made aware of these executive sessions and that the board excuse themselves during a publicly called meeting.

On top of that, the law prohibits public bodies from taking any action during the closed-door sessions, requiring boards reconvene before the public to do so.

“It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society,” Louisiana open meetings law reads, “that public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens be advised of and aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.”

Lycée struggles with transparency

For months, Lycée’s board has been the subject of complaints involving lack of transparency. One group of parents went so far as to secure an attorney and detail a lengthy list of concerns about the board’s governance in a letter they sent to board members, school faculty and state officials.

In December, over the objections of news reporters, board members closed a meeting involving board members to anyone who was not part of the Lycée “family.” John White, the state’s school superintendent, soon after intervened on the school’s behalf, asking his staff and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools to help Lycée find a strong leader.

Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director for the charter schools association that is working with the school, regularly stresses the need for transparency among charter boards.

Despite that advice, Lycée officials as recently as last week still seemed to be struggling to comply with the demands of open government.

In January, The Lens raised questions about the circumstances of Otis’ resignation and requested any documents related to a severance package for her.

But attorney Jaimme Collins of Adams and Reese wrote back on Wednesday evening that “there are no documents related to a severance package for Jill Otis, because Jill Otis never received a severance package.”

That same night, the school issued a media release in which it announced it would not seek reimbursement for the $30,000 the school paid to Otis.

In the statement, Montes blamed Abrams, who was then president of the board, for the $30,000 payment to Otis. “According to Dr. Montes,” the media release said, “Abrams decided to accept her resignation effective on a date and in a role that was not clear instead of immediately or with a short defined transition period … Dr. Montes believes a different decision likely should have been made.”

The statement doesn’t even hint at the fact that, according to emails, Montes not only supported paying Otis a severance and giving her the option of staying on with an emerita title through the end of the school year, he suggested it.

“I think this document is too wordy,” Montes wrote on March 28. “It should present the following bullet points as options that we have discussed.”

The options, as Montes wrote them in his email:

1. Resign and leave now with a severance package
2. Resign and stay until the end of the year in a amicable and peaceful way
3. Resign with either option 1 and 2 with the title of principal emerita and Honorary board member
4. If she chooses not to part ways amicably she will be terminated as of the next board meeting.

Montes was not the only board member to refer to the board’s offer to pay Otis for leaving the school. In an email sent to six other board members earlier that same day, Saleun wrote that she wanted wording to “make me feel comfortable that she will leave knowing that she will be terminated [if] she does anything against the school and does not take the resignation/retirement package.”

‘We are a public entity..’

Of the board members involved in the March emails, Montes, Banangada, Saleun and Catherine MacPhaille still serve on Lycée’s board. Thomas Klingler, Ken Charity and Andrew Abrams all resigned in the months that followed.

In a Jan. 30 message to Montes and other Lycée board members, Abrams attached the March emails and described them as just some of the “numerous email chains in which board members discussed and approved the terms of Otis’ resignation.”

Abrams sent the board members the old emails in response to Lycée’s media statement that he was the one who arranged to pay Otis following her resignation.

The Lens emailed each of the seven board members involved in the March email string, asking about the content and their involvement conducting board business by email.

Only Montes and former board members Abrams and Klingler responded.

“I did not know that the email exchange in question was in violation of state open meetings law,” Klingler wrote in an email to The Lens.

Klingler said that while the email string was representative of the board’s communication concerning Otis’ resignation, he believed the board was being guided by its attorney. Throughout the process, Klinger said — from Otis’ evaluation until her resignation — board members consulted with attorney Justin Schmidt, also of Adams and Reese.

“I believe that the fact that the board’s attorney participated in and facilitated these discussions gave the board confidence that what we were doing was within the law,” Klingler wrote.

Abrams, too, said board members felt confident they were acting in compliance with the law because “the board’s attorney participated in and facilitated these discussions.” Abrams noted that he was only copied on the March 27 and 28 emails and did not engage in any deliberations with the rest of the board.

Abrams also provided an additional email string from March 30, in which he addressed the rest of the board concerning his conversations about Otis’ pay following her resignation. Not only does Abrams copy Schmidt on the correspondance, but the attorney responds to Abrams and the rest of the board that, “This looks encouraging.”

Today, records show, Lycée has a contract to pay $290 per hour to Adams and Reese for legal services — services school officials said range from facilitating the school’s public records requests to representing board members in a lawsuit filed by a former teacher.

Documents say that rate may fluctuate from $185 to $500 per hour, depending on which of the Adams and Reese attorneys do the work.

Montes said that while the emails may have constituted a violation of the state’s public meetings laws, he doesn’t believe The Lens should publish them.

“The emails would have never been released to the public,” Montes wrote, “and on behalf of Lycée I am requesting that the Lens refrain from publishing the emails due to the potential impact on the former employee.”

Otis declined to talk with The Lens about the emails or the $30,000, but did say Monday that she planned to meet with her attorney.

The Lens is publishing the emails so that readers can draw their own conclusions about the intent of the board regarding Otis’ resignation.

About 76 percent of public school students in Orleans Parish attend charter schools, most of which are overseen by self-appointed boards. Though not elected, all of these boards operate as agents of public funds and are required to follow the law when it comes to holding open meetings and complying with public records laws.

Despite the issues Lycée is having in this regard, Montes said he recognizes his board’s duty to communicate with the public in a manner that upholds the law.

“We are a public entity,” he wrote in his Friday email to The Lens, “and should embrace transparency at all times so the community and taxpayers can be fully aware of how public funds are being managed.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include responses from former Lycée board member Andrew Abrams, who responded to The Lens’s questions after the original story had been published. It also includes an additional email string from March 30 which Abrams provided in answer to questions.

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  • ALICE MIDKIFF

    This is an excellent piece of investigative reporting. Now, what are we going to do about the rest of the charters (OPSB’s included) that continue to violate state laws, includig, but nt limited to open meetings laws? The foxes are in the hen house (again)! And you have got to love this: “Documents say that rate may fluctuate from $185 to $500 per hour, depending on which of the Adams and Reese attorneys do the work.” Lee Reid’s name over and over again (except not in this article). The dirtier the non-profit (d/b/a “the charter”), the more expensive it becomes, and this one is going to be really expensive.

  • Einstein

    Just saw this interesting article about a school “run by the husband-and-wife team of Ron and Alice Midkiff” …
    http://www.bestofneworleans.com/gambit/comprehending-einstein/Content?oid=1248000

  • Prefer not to say

    John White, are you reading this? Still willing to support this school at all costs……

  • JPPSS Parent

    If they were in fact guided by their lawyer to speak about these terms w/in emails how is there a conflict. JP school board was also cited just last school year for doing the same thing and discussing business about upcoming agendas and decisions prior to their meetings. I’m not saying this is correct actions by the board but to say it is limited to “non-elected” boards would be false.

  • http://thelens Joyous VB

    The March series of emails amongst the board members in regard to the termination of the principal was business as usual. That is how the LFNO board has conducted its business for more than a year. Where are the board minutes indicating the votes that were taken? Who is the board secretary? Why didn’t the secretary record the minutes and disseminate them within three days as required in the charter? It is apparent that the board made its financial decisions behind the scenes without public comment or votes. Saved them time and grief should a parent question an issue.

    The State Superintendent, SDE and the LA. Charter Association should be ashamed of themselves. Each entity has done its best to protect this board from accountability. The superintendent suggests the hiring of a consulting company to identify a CEO? Just how much more titillating evidence does he, Shirley and Gang need to understand it is the LFNO Board that is the problem. Do these people actually believe that this board will permit a new CEO to run Lycee? The first company the LFNO board hired for board training made a formal announcement after its session concluded, on the Uptown Messenger, that the board must allow the CEO the daily management of the school. That was the sum total of the company’s comment.

    Now we hear that Adams and Reese is charging the LFNO board between $185 and $500 an hour to save the board members’ hides? Where is that money coming from? The children? I, as a taxpayer question the hiring of this firm. I have read they advised the board on the termination of principal. Did an A&R attorney bother to read the charter to determine that the board violated its charter provisions and state law, in the evaluation of its principal? Does this firm know the provisions of the open meetings law? Did they advise the board that a trip into executive session to discuss the principal’s termination would satisfy the requirements of the open meetings law, post the secretive emails sent amongst them to make decisions on this issue? Did A&R notify the board that a motion, a second, and a board vote were necessary to accept the principal’s resignation as of June 30th, and the agreement outlined? Seems not.

    The school’s audit is an insult to taxpayers. Bias was clearly evident in certain findings in the Lycee audit. It is clearly apparent that certain issues were reported with a board slant to uphold the LFNO Board’s declaration that everything that is wrong with the school is someone else’s fault. I wonder who suggested the auditing agency? Was there board discussion and a vote taken on the hiring of the auditing agency?

  • kally

    It does not seem these private emails ended with this affair either. How do you think giselle was hired? Sweet Olive? I would question everything after this telling expose.

    The foreshadowing of Allen kelly’s words to Paige Saleun about JJ, then Darlene and then the teachers is very scary. My hair stood up. Playing with tax payer money is a crime, Playing with peoples lives is unforgivable.

  • http://thelens Joyous VB

    I have reread my post, and see that I misstated that the board did not take a formal vote on accepting the principal’s. I was wrong. Upon review of the Uptown Messenger’s live broadcast, I saw that the board did vote on this issue, however, the terms of the resignation were not discussed within the motion. Isn’t it interesting that Montes claimed that Abrams solely made the decision re: agreement with the principal, however, Montes’ emails indicate otherwise. It seems that he has been caught red handed in the act of prevarication, and hoisted on his own petard. I was sickened by the vitriol in those emails which underscores the malevolence of some board members who have an axe to grind with anyone who dares to disagree with or question and/or challenge them.

  • creole65

    Now if only someone made recordings of the meetings Montes had at Loyola on Sundays which were also against the open meetings law, all would be out in the open. I believe Catherine Macphaiele (sic) was the secretary of the board during this period.

  • D. Bagh

    No more. Taking my child back to Audubon next year. Thank god I can use the sibling clause as the mechanism.

    Good luck, parents. This promising opportunity has dissolved into a wicked mess. I’m out of this effort.

    And to Jean and Paige, a hearty F U.

  • Watchdoggie

    One has to wonder how Adams and Reese attorneys could be working so diligently on these issues and not realize they are assisting a Public Board in illegal activities. I hope they have reminded the LFNO board members that they cannot erase their emails…The judge(s) won’t like it.

  • ALICE MIDKIFF

    I LOVE this post by Joyous VB: “Did an A&R attorney bother to read the charter to determine that the board violated its charter provisions and state law, in the evaluation of its principal?…Seems not.” On December 19, 2012, I met with the Deputy Superintendent of Charter Schools for the OPBS, and she told me that she did not know what was in the charter (inquiry regarding EINSTEIN). Ha! I doubt that A & R attorneys, like Reid, know what’s in the charter either.

  • Watchdoggie

    My guess is that the only goal Adams and Reese had was to further the goals of this rogue board. I think they have forgotten that Lawyers have a code of ethics.

  • JessJ

    Agreed D. Bagh. I’m taking my kids out of Lycee asap. We were lucky to get into another immersion school. No parent should have to deal with the fear and uncertainty that Lycee parents have faced this year.

  • Annunciation

    Guess what? I still like the school and it is a huge asset to NOLA. If Lycee fails, then we will go back to 400 people begging for 20 Audubon spots. Oy! the 380 families that dont make that lottery will pay 8,000+ a year for private school. You tell me, what other public school would fill the void? none. Lycee is troubled, but can overcome. The folks that are obviously too tender or easily offended, they should leave the school. I still have more faith in Lycee with all their board problems than in Audubon, with all their unpleasant surprises and cover ups.

  • sad parent

    John White needs to focus on the school by removing the current board members and replacing them with educated people. The board members should not have a student currently attending this school. That is a conflict of interest. This is a great school with great teachers. My children have learned so much this year and I hope and PRAY that the corruption leaves very soon. We have great parents but we need to focus on our children and what is best for their education. If all the parents would reflect deep down in their hearts they would all agree that our current path is not working and causing a lot of unneccessary grief for the benifit of a few. Put your kids first and not friendships with people who are only looking out for themselves. The emails along show how ruthless and what liers they have become too protect themselves and not our children.

  • UptownMom

    In addition to Audubon Charter’s French program option in the New Orleans public school arena, there are two others available for parents in New Orleans / Orleans Parish.
    The International School of Louisiana (ISL) offering core academic subjects in either French or Spanish. This school just had their charter renewed for 10 years. There is also the Hynes School New Orleans offering a French Immersion program. This school has been open since 1952. The deadline to apply via the Eastbank Collaborative Application for all three was on January 11th, 2013 however, I think a parent can still apply now as applications may still be accepted at some of these schools.

  • Nola

    Annunciation, you are correct about the fact that Audubon does not have enough vacancies to fulfill the demand (I went to the open house too!). However, putting your faith in the school that is run by the current board is ignoring the facts. You claim that Audubon is so terrible; maybe you should talk to some of the parents who left Audubon for Lycee and are banging down the door trying to get back in! Stating that those who are easily offended should leave misses the entire point. This is your children you are experimenting with. The call for a complete overhaul does not exhibit tender feelings. There are very real concerns about the viability of the school. In fact, John White was so concerned he sent in consultants to clean up the mess – this is not tender feelings on his part. You should stop defending and trying to protect a board that is completely out of control and instead DEMAND a complete overhaul of the Board, the CEO and Sweet Olive and pray that it is enough! These people are now affecting the lives of the children, faculty and staff at LFNO. The atmosphere is Toxic. I would not be surprised if the Ethics Board got involved – they should!

  • kally

    Annuciation,

    Are you implying that the 380 families who can’t get Audubon’s coveted 20 spots can afford private school? Sweet Olive’s Outreach program must be working so “selectively” well.

    Are you also assuming that all lycee kids will test into this school and be proficient enough to land the coveted space. Lycee is not accredited and students were allowed to enter in first and second grade with NO French.

    John White,

    Is the reason you chose to save this one and only charter school due Demographics?

    It can’t be because the school is French and not open to all kids in all grades. Would you save a school of a different color and language(english perhaps), with truly open admissions the same curtesy or do the outcomes scare you too much?

  • ALICE MIDKIFF

    Okay, guess what firm/lead attorney represents the Eastbank Collaborative of Charter Schools? This level of corruption is high – very high (or the lowest of low, depending on your perspective). Adams and Reese/Lee Reid recoup: (1) Einstein Charter (Lee Reid/Adams and Reese do(es) Pastorek’s (former Adams and Reese partner) dirty work – ousts founders – CEO, Board) via a new board = Nolan Marshall, III, president (founding Einstein Board required to resign or the lease for Village de l’Est will not get approved – OPSB reticent or immobolized, whatever). This is the tip of the iceberg. That was in 2007. Now, it is 2013. You have got to love this, or in some way embrace it and fight it with whatever you’ve got!

  • ALICE MIDKIFF

    “Watchdoggie” – I love your posts. That is exactly what the Adams and Reese firm is hired for – the non-profits that hire the firm (principally Lee Reid) know that this firm has inside State connections and can talk its/his way around the State, even the IRS. It is like the defense attorney who knows his client is guilty, but will pull every dirt trick in the book (and not in the book) to get the client acquitted (skill is not the deciding factor here). Here are a “few” Adams and Reese clients: EINSTEIN, MOTON, ALGIERS CHARTER SCHOOL ASSOCIATION (ACSA), EASTBANK COLLABORATIVE OF CHARTER SCHOOLS…). My advice to any interested party is to look up Lee Reid (registered agent) on the Secretary of State website. Here, Adams and Reese represents a non-profit board that has a BESE – State approved Type 2 charter, now in major litigation (Mipro, etc). Ultimately, the insurance co. will pay for this (Board liability, E & O, etc.) , but is this any way to run a charter school?!!!

  • Dismayed

    It’s amazing how a handful of vindictive, mean-spirited people with a personal axe to grind can interfere with the running of a school that this city wants and needs. If you cared about the children, you would stop this personal campaign against board members. Don’t you have anything better to do with your time? The city has so many needs; certainly your talents could be put to use doing something constructive.

  • Lycee Supporter

    Lycee is a great school and I think it is now run by a board that puts the children’s welfare above that of adults who want to take advantage of public coffers without providing value. Jill Otis is a case in point. She made an excellent salary and in exchange the school received disastrously inept leadership, as documented in the independent auditor’s report. The board recognized the situation and asked her to leave…in the best interest of the children.

    Mrs. Otis then accepted a generous severance package with apparently no strings attached and, instead of leaving with dignity and supporting the Lycee as it moved to the next level, she turned around and started a campaign to destroy the school, I guess because her feelings were hurt.

    She may have been a great principal under the centralized OPSB system, but clearly she did not have the right skills to run a public charter school. Nor did the other people in the administration. That is why the board had to ask her (and the others) to leave. It’s as simple as that and it’s all outlined in the audit report. There’s no mystery… other than why previously respected educators would launch a personal smear campaign and in the process nearly destroy a wonderful school.

  • Nola

    Good try Lycee Supporter. No one is buying the “blame it on everyone else” spin anymore. The LFNO board intentionally tried to make it sound like Ms. Otis received money illegally. They did this several times and even offered a ficticious explanation for the severance to the internal auditors. According to the posted emails one of the board members obviously wanted Ms. Otis to feel threatened (big suprise). Another email clearly delineated a list of which employees would be terminated next. The third employee on the list was arrested in front of the school children (that’s pretty threatening). All the LFNO board members knew they were offering a severance to Ms. Otis. Don’t try to cloud the real issue with the best interest of the children. The environemnet that has been created at LFNO is too toxic for children.

    “There’s this unbelievable willingness to turn a blind eye to the injustices that are happening to kids every single day in our schools in the name of harmony among adults”

    How odd that a board member chooses this quote as a footnote on emails. Several members of the LFNO board have run this school in a way that only serves adult interests and egos. In this case these cruel adults are most definately damaging the children with their actions and their example.

  • http://thelens Joyous VB

    Dismayed – To call, intelligent people who dare to think, school destroyers is preposterous, and ignorant for It is individuals who blindly follow inept leadership that will be the downfall of this school. The thinkers are not pointing fingers at you and your ilk because they have character and refrain from childish behavior. I suggest that you might do the same – refrain from childish behavior.

    Lycee Supporter
    Keep switching identities do you? Not too clever. You, who have no skill set to run anything, is criticizing another. It was the rogue board that came up with what you call the severance package. Those released board emails really tell the tale. Trying to take the heat off board members by denigrating another’s character and making excuses? It is not going to work this time.

    You are one of the morally bankrupt individuals who has played a major role through employee character assassination to ameliorate the damage LFNO board members have done to the school.

    Are you reveling in joy because an employee quit recently? Telling her she was on the termination list trying to make an example of her to keep the other employees in line? The board has been systematically getting rid of employees who do not tout the board line, and who will not capitulate to the madness, intimidation and fear tactics at LFNO.. If I didn’t know, I would swear that Lycee Francais has developed a Nazi Germany climate. Keep it up. Before you know it, no one will want to work at Lycee Francais.

    You are the worst kind of coward because you hide behind fictitious names, and destroy other’s reputations. I know you, and you do not have the skill
    set of a snail. It seems that you keep screwing things up. I think the chickens are coming home to roost, and are going to keep coming. You might not be happy as they have all not arrived. People like you bring out the worst in me. I am trying hard not to sink to your hellish level, but it has become very difficult.

    As far as I am concerned, you have a right to your questionalbe opinion. However when you engage in gestapo character assassination, I draw the line.

  • http://thelens Joyous VB

    Is LFNO a stable environment for children?
    Ironically, it is the children who are being hurt through the employee revolving door process that has become part of the Lycee Francais toxic environment. Children do not like change, and sometimes do not understand abrupt changes within their school setting. Seeing strangers, replacing staff that children have bonded with, creates insecurity for them, and an very unstable environment. Why do some parents not recognize this? Read some child psychology. Most times children do not share their fears with parents or teachers unless provoked to do so.

    I am sick that the school has now created a termination list with employees identified to go. It seems that Madame has notified some of their status. Last week, an employee received a communication from Madame of her status on the list. She decided to resign, leave with her dignity and principles in tact before capitulating to fear and intimidation . Not too worry, the interim CEO had someone in the wings. The employee resigned late in the day, and Madame had someone in her place the next morning. Faster than a speeding bullet. Who is the friend of this employee? This situation is reminiscent of the board emails that I read in regard to the termination of the principal. There was a hit list then. One would think that after all the damage that has been done by board members to the school, they would at least curb their bad behavior and act as professionals.

    There is a fatal flaw with charter schools. If I have blue eyes, and the leadership wants all brown eyed employees, they can terminate me the first day I leave home without my colored contact lens. No reason is necessary, and off I go. It is apparent that charter school leaders and board members can openly malign an employee’s character and work ethic doing it with great comfort. After all, no one of consequence is looking over their shoulders holding them accountable- only you and me. It also seems that the leaders of the school will go to hell and back to ensure that this school is not diverse. Just look around. No room for poor and at risk children. That should have state department consequences, but after all, as Mr. Gang states, this is a local issue, and the board is in charge, even though the school’s enrollment falls far short of the at risk population in New Orleans, required in law. Want to keep Lycee as a private public school. Another instance of SDE turning a blind eye.

    As far as Hunnewell and Roemer, there is little hope in regard to the board resolution because John White decided it was a CEO problem, not the board. Only have lost 9 board members, two CEOs, one business manager, two secretaries, one after care employee, two teachers, and an assistant in a short period. Have been told by Nr. White this is business as usual and part of growing pains for new charter schools. Brilliant deduction Mr. White, and you are? I pity the new CEO as he or she will continue to take marching orders from this board. The board can continue to count on the SDE philosophy of “it is a local issue”.

  • http://thelens Joyous VB

    What about the children in the LFNO employee shuffle?

    LFNO board members and leaders don’t have to follow the charter as in advertising new positions, as this is part of the growing pains associated with new charter schools. Impressive, the rapid speed advertisement of the LFNO teaching assistant position, the receipt of applications, the vetting of the applications, and the interview process all done in 12 hours. Did a background check occur? Almost as fast as a speeding bullet. No need for a charter that requires such, the leaders are experts in creating their own law in regard to hiring practices. Gang, SDE, thinks it is a local issue after all.

    It takes a lot of chutzpah to ignore the charter by not advertising and vetting employees before hiring, especially under the watch of the new consultant and the LA Charter Ass. Business as usual. However, after someone thinks about it, we will hear that the new employee is only a substitute. Yeah.

  • ALICE MIDKIFF

    Wonderful – wonderful! Fight – fight – fight. “Billable hours” – the only thing that A & R attorneys are interested in. This Board wants to save itself, and the State will back it (the Board), up to a point – until it (i.e., White, Dobard, BESE…) perceives itself/themselves being threatened (including Ms. Caroline Roemer Shirley, who has a big iron in the fire). Obviously, the bulk of this group is not being fooled.