Proposed censure of Huntsville City Schools board member could be in jeopardy

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - This week Elisa Ferrell, the Huntsville school board president, sent notice to Pam Hill about her intent to censure Hill. Wednesday, WHNT News 19 learned the requirements to start the censure process, as spelled out in Alabama's School Board Governance Act, were not met. The Huntsville City School board faces deeper division, as that proposed censure could be in jeopardy.

A censure is a formal reprimand that can be issued at the will of a governing body against one of its members. In Alabama, censuring a board member locally, then through the state superintendent of education, can lead to further punishment for that board member including keeping them from running for office again.

The Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) has been leading mediation between the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education members since conflict erupted more than a year ago.

Wednesday, the AASB told WHNT News 19 they do not believe the legal censure process Ferrell started this week was followed correctly. In an email to WHNT News 19, an AASB spokeswoman wrote:

"According to the School Governance Improvement Act of 2012, a censure request requires an affirmative vote of the majority of the members of the local board and at least 30 days’ advance written notice of the proposed action by the secretary of the board. It is our understanding that these requirements were not met."

She went on to say:

"It is our understanding that these requirements were not met:

The requirements to have the request for censure 1) brought before the board, 2) for that request to gain an affirmative vote by the majority of the board; and 3) for board member who is the subject of said censure to receive at least 30 days' advance written notice of proposed action by secretary of the board."

Ferrell had stated Tuesday that she intended to call for a vote on the proposed censure of Hill on April 19 at the school board meeting. Wednesday, when we asked her about this new development, she admitted to the error in procedure.

"Because I did this by myself, and not with the other board members, I need the board to agree on it before we proceed," she told us by phone. "I was proceeding based on my own knowledge of the law, and I missed a step." She confirmed that she did not turn to the board for a vote before sending notice to Hill of the intended censure.

The law Ferrell refers to is the School Governance Act.

Ferrell said that she still intends to move forward with the censure, but she has already sent the notice and complaints she drafted to Hill and the other board members. She said this misstep means she will need to amend the schedule for a board vote, then give Hill the appropriate time to respond. Ferrell said that on April 19 instead of voting to censure, the board will be voting on whether or not to enter the censure process. If there is a successful majority vote to move ahead, Hill will have 30 days from that date to respond formally. Then, at the next meeting when the 30 days expire, the board could take another vote, Ferrell said.

"This gives her more ability to prepare," Ferrell noted, adding that she intends to treat Hill fairly during the process.

Ferrell intends to censure Hill locally, but she also asked the state superintendent to get involved this week. She sent the censure request to the state superintendent of education too.

Wednesday, the AASB general counsel/legal advocacy director said "...the state will not take action on a tainted process."

WHNT News 19 also reached out to Hill about this latest development in the effort to reprimand her. Her response was short: "Just one more inaccuracy." She did not elaborate.