West Memphis School Board sued over interviews for post

Great Seal of Arkansas in a court room in Washington County. Thursday, June 21, 2018,
Great Seal of Arkansas in a court room in Washington County. Thursday, June 21, 2018,

Two residents of West Memphis are suing the West Memphis School District and its School Board alleging a violation of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act in connection with the hiring of a new superintendent.

Plaintiffs Tammy Bell and Cheryl Roe contend that the School Board last May 24 and 25 conducted interviews of four superintendent candidates without giving public notice of their meetings for those interviews, contrary to the requirements of the law.

Joey McCutchen and Stephen Napurano, of the McCutchen Sexton Napurano law firm in Fort Smith filed the lawsuit on behalf of Bell and Roe on Oct. 9 in Crittenden County Circuit Court.

"On or about May 31, 2023, the West Memphis School District announced that Dr. Terrence Brown was selected as the new superintendent after the Board conducted interviews," the legal team wrote. "On June 6, 2023, the Board held a special meeting and unanimously approved Dr. Brown's contract."

Roe and Bell were unaware that the board had conducted interviews of any candidates for the job "because no notice was given to the public," the lawsuit says.

A chain of emails obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act request related to the interviews showed "that the board secretly interviewed four candidates for the superintendent position on May 24th and 25th," according to the lawsuit.

Besides Brown, who is a graduate of West Memphis High and a former Memphis educator, the candidates interviewed were Wyonia Scott, Toriano Green and Rodriguez Broadnax.

The Freedom of Information Act says that all meetings -- except those specifically exempted --of governing bodies that are supported wholly or in part by taxpayer funds require public notice.

The West Memphis School Board candidate interviews violated the law in that no notice was given to the public, McCutchen and Napurano wrote.

"There appears to be complete lack of transparency by several board members beginning with the termination of Dr. Richard Atwill, the payment of $350,000 of taxpayer money, and concluding with. the secret hiring of the new replacement Superintendent Terrence Brown," McCutchen said

The board and candidates were seeking to replace Richard Atwill, who had served 10 months of his three-year contract to lead the West Memphis district when his contract was terminated, effective immediately, in a 4-3 vote of the School Board on April 18.

The termination resulted in the district having to pay Atwill $350,000 as part of his severance, according to the lawsuit.