After two hours discussing the issues in chambers with both sides, Superior Court Judge Douglas Brady extended a temporary restraining order against five members of the V.I. Board of Education and ordered a public meeting in two weeks to determine who is running the agency.
The action pitted Education members Nandi Sekou, Martial Webster and Terrence Joseph against Mary Moorhead, Judy Gomez, LaVerne Slack, Winona Hendricks and Arah Lockhart.
Sekou, Webster and Joseph charged that the defendants illegally removed Sekou as board chair and Joseph as vice chair after a meeting was adjourned on Jan. 16. They maintain the removal also took place without public notice.
Moorhead and Gomez then were selected to replace them on Jan. 29, also illegally, they maintain, because neither action appeared on the public agenda three days prior to the meeting.
Brady said both sides agreed to extend the TRO for two weeks.
He ruled that the board chair position would remain vacant until the mandated March 18 meeting.
Slack, the board secretary, will prepare for the 4 p.m. meeting with Patricia Schrader-Cooke, acting executive director, and will notify the public.
The agenda will include voting on the removal of the chair and vice chair and subsequently an election of new officers, if necessary, Brady directed.
The original TRO was issued Monday by Brady and ordered the defendants not to take any action against the staff.
According to the complaint, Schrader-Cooke and Barbara Williams Brown, business and finance director, have been targeted for reprisals since Gomez’s sister, Angeli Leerdam, was not selected for the position as director of business and finance.
The plaintiffs also charged that Moorhead, Gomez, Hendricks and Slack “meddle” in the day-to-day functions of the staff and, on one occasion, locking the St. Thomas employees out of the office.
Sekou stated that Moorhead interfered in the internal operations of the board and has prevented Schrader-Cooke from issuing assignments and disciplining staff.
On Feb. 5, according to Sekou, Moorhead suspended Schrader-Cooke and Williams-Brown and, at a Feb. 12 meeting, attempted to suspend and/or terminate both, but the motions failed.
Additionally Moorhead allegedly hired a special financial advisor at $100 per hour to oversee the same matters assigned to the director of business and finance, the charges read. And Moorhead traveled to St. Thomas twice and charged expenses to Education although the trips allegedly were not board related.
“Accordingly, the agency, and by extension me, has been, and will continue to be injured and damaged by the continuing reign of Mary Moorhead as chair, as her behavior is contributing to low productivity at the office, absenteeism and illness, which directly impact (s) my ability to carry out my mandate as an elected member of the board,” Sekou’s testimony read.
Moorhead was asked to comment or answer the charges made against her. She declined, saying she didn’t want to risk being held in contempt of court.
“I actually don’t intend to say anything until after the meeting” on March 18, she said, adding she will be satisfied with the judge’s ruling.
Brady did not set a new hearing date but the plaintiff’s attorney, Julita de Leon, said a motion will be filed after the March 18 board meeting to hear whether Brady will grant a permanent injunction and declaratory relief against the five board members.
She said she also will file a motion to remove Jennifer Jones as representative for the defendants since Jones is the official Education counsel and can’t, by law, represent some of the members without permission of the others.