WINCHESTER, Ky. (LEX 18) — A Clark County Board of Education meeting Monday night ended in fireworks when the discussion of a motion to potentially replace the board’s attorney turned to a Kentucky Attorney General investigation of one of the board’s members.
Board member Sherry Richardson is currently under investigation by the attorney general’s office for allegations that her family’s business profited off a school-funded project while she was on the board. The board’s attorney, Brian Thomas, reported the allegation earlier this year to the state attorney general’s office after investigating it internally, LEX 18 learned from multiple sources.
LEX 18 obtained documents that indicated Richardson’s family’s company, Howard’s Overhead Doors, was paid $85,335 by Rising Sun Developing for work done on the new athletic complex at George Rogers Clark High School in Winchester. The attorney general’s office is still investigating the allegation that her family business indirectly benefited from a district contract, which could be a violation of board ethics by state law.
Richardson made a motion in August to advertise for legal services, a move that would allow Thomas to re-apply but end his current arrangement with the board and open up the position to new applicants.
After Monday night’s meeting, board vice chair William Taulbee told LEX 18 that he believes Richardson’s motion was in retaliation against Thomas.
In the weeks since that motion passed, the board received three applicants for the position; Thomas, another attorney and a legal firm. From the information provided to the board, Thomas’ bid appeared to be the lowest. Taulbee said that based on the cost for Thomas’ firms’ service, he should be chosen.
Other board members, including Richardson, said that the candidates should be interviewed. A few board members also pointed out that the other bids were based on an on-call type of arrangement and Thomas’ included allowances for the attorney to attend every board meeting.
Richardson said during the meeting that many county school boards don’t have an attorney at every meeting and that Clark County should not continue the practice just because it’s what they’ve always done.
Chair of the board Ashlie Ritchie questioned why the board wouldn’t want an attorney at every meeting. Vice chair of the board William Taulbee voiced his concern that the motion was not solely motivated by the need to “remain competitive” in legal services and pricing, a reason that was mentioned when the initial motion was made.
When pressed on the reason for the motion during Monday’s meeting, Richardson went further.
“I think it's a board that needs to feel comfortable and when you have an attorney that doesn't support one of its board members I think that's an issue,” Richardson said. “So I would make the motion that we go ahead and start the interviews.”
Richardson also mentioned during the open meeting that she’d asked LEX 18 not to report anything on the attorney general’s investigation until it was over.
“I asked Leigh Searcy from channel 18 if she would wait to air this until the attorney general has made their ruling,” Richardson said. “It's unfortunate what they put out there is not factual, it's something that's been handed to them and no investigation has been done, and here I sit on trial.”
LEX 18 verified the information reported in the initial story about the ongoing investigation through documentation obtained from multiple sources. Initial reporting also made it clear that the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office would be the ones to ultimately determine if Richardson had violated any rules.
Richardson’s attorney previously said that he doesn’t believe she has violated any of the legal requirements to be on a public school board in the state of Kentucky.
Board member Megan Hendricks said during the meeting Monday that Richardson deserved due process and should be able to continue in her position and vote until a ruling was made.
Richardson echoed the sentiment in her discussion with Taulbee during the meeting.
“I'm asking you to back off and don't judge me, let the attorney general do his job,” Richardson said. “My personal attorney has told me that I am in good standing until a ruling has been made. I can vote, I can participate and my voice stands.”
Ultimately the board voted Monday night to pass (three in favor, two against) a motion to move forward and interview the candidates who applied to serve as the board’s attorney, despite Taulbee’s concern that the move was “self serving” on Richardson’s part.
During the discussion, Taulbee brought up a phone call before the August motion in which Richardson had asked him to support her call for advertisement of legal services.
Richardson acknowledged the call, but when Taulbee said he’d told her then he wouldn’t support the motion unless there was a viable reason involving the district, Richardson tried to move away from the topic.
“This is not where we need to have this discussion,” Richardson said.
“Yes it is, because it's underlying our whole board and it has for months and with everything that came to light last week in the news and the articles —” Taulbee began, but Richardson interjected to say that the news stories “did not represent the facts.”
One board member, Brenda Considine, told LEX 18 after the meeting that she has not worried about the ongoing investigation. She said her understanding is that the “bid was taken prior” to Richardson becoming a board member, but said she would wait to see what the attorney general’s office decides.
“I think the attorney general needs to act as quickly as possible for the sake of everyone involved — the board, the district and Mrs. Richardson,” Taulbee told LEX 18 after the meeting. “So we can get this behind us, so we can get to what's important for the district, which is the kids.”