Columbus Municipal School District’s board on Wednesday unanimously upheld the termination of former superintendent Philip Hickman.
Following a 45-minute executive session, trustees unanimously ratified their Feb. 23 decision to cut ties with the embattled superintendent, who the board accused of misappropriation of district funds and “disrespecting the board.”
The board in November voted not to renew Hickman’s contract past its June 30 expiration. Trustees voted to fire Hickman after misappropriation allegations arose and later amended the reasons for termination to include an instance where they believe Hickman attempted to blackmail board member Fredrick Sparks with a lawsuit if he didn’t vote to extend Hickman’s contract.
Hickman appealed the termination decision and made his case in a two-day public hearing in late March. He claimed specifically that board president Jason Spears had created a hostile working environment and had usurped Hickman’s authority by communicating with other administrators directly without the superintendent’s involvement.
Before Wednesday’s executive session, Jackson-based attorney Jeff Rimes, who represents Hickman, asked Sparks and Spears to recuse themselves from voting due to their possible “personal animosity” toward Hickman. Both adamantly stated no animosity was present, nor would anything but the evidence affect the vote — which ultimately upheld Hickman’s firing by a 5-0 margin.
Both Hickman and Rimes left the meeting before the board’s vote was announced in public.
“We are very disappointed in the decision,” Rimes told The Dispatch later Wednesday. “We do not feel the board followed the law, with respect to the recusal we requested from Mr. Sparks and Mr. Spears.”
Spears, speaking to The Dispatch, refuted claims either he or Sparks needed to recuse.
“There was nothing illegally done, of us participating in the hearing and the decision of this particular appeal,” Spears said. “Speaking for myself, (I) am able to look at only the information put before me and make a decision based solely off of the information provided, without any other factors affecting my ability to be objective in my decision-making.”
Whether Hickman will pursue a wrongful termination lawsuit is still unclear, but he has 20 days to decide.
“His next available option, legally, is to file in court,” Rimes said. “Even though a final decision has not been made, it is likely what he will do.”
The board has already selected three finalists to interview for the vacant superintendent post.