Charter school board member sues, claiming open meetings violation

By Jeff Mosier
The Dallas Morning News
Originally published Jan. 7, 2014

A Prime Prep Academy board member has filed a lawsuit accusing the board chairman and the school’s sponsoring nonprofit of violating state open meetings laws.

The lawsuit, filed the week before Christmas, seeks to overturn the board’s votes to suspend executive director Kimberly Carlisle and to appoint former Dallas ISD trustee Ron Price as interim superintendent. Plaintiff Okey Akpom is also seeking up to $100,000 for several alleged violations, including meeting without a quorum and without proper notice.

The charter school co-founded by football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders has been wracked by infighting for months. A dozen employees were fired or resigned Monday as part of Prime Prep’s restructuring, and the Texas Education Agency is investigating the school.

“Our client has really focused this suit on trying to get some understanding, and also an order from the court, as to whether or not the meetings were taken according to the bylaws and the Open Meetings Act,” said Elizabeth Basden, Akpom’s attorney.

Board chairman T. Christopher Lewis said the suit appears to be an attempt to stop the school’s restructuring effort, which includes replacing most top administrators. The subjects of the lawsuit are Lewis and Prime Prep sponsor Uplift Fort Worth.

“I question why someone would want to stop the board from moving forward,” he said.

Carlisle, who was suspended indefinitely without pay, declined to comment about the case.

The lawsuit makes two arguments against the legality of the Dec. 18 meeting, in which Carlisle was suspended and Price was hired.

Akpom disputes the decision by Lewis to declare that meeting an emergency. The emergency designation allowed the board to meet without posting the required 72 hours’ notice.

The litigation also tackles the dispute over whether John Adolph is still a board member, which would have affected the existence of a quorum at that and another December meeting.

Lewis previously said he was told by a former administrator that Adolph left the board earlier in the year. Since then, Lewis said he’s had doubts about whether Adolph was ever legally appointed to the board.

After several requests, Lewis said, he has not received any board minutes confirming Adolph’s appointment.

Adolph, a pastor living in Beaumont, could not be reached for comment. But he previously said he hadn’t resigned from the board and is still a member.

One board meeting in December was canceled when the uncertainty of Adolph’s status was first raised. Since then, Lewis has proceeded on the assumption that Adolph is not a member.

If Adolph is still on the board, he would be the sixth member. That means that four trustees must be present for a quorum. If the board only has five members, three trustees are required, according to Lewis.

The Uplift Fort Worth bylaws call for a larger majority, but Lewis said legal counsel advised him that the bylaws are inconsistent with state law.

Only three members were present at Prime Prep’s board meeting Dec. 16 when trustees voted to fire Superintendent Rachel Sanders — no relation to Deion Sanders. There are also three members at the meeting to suspend Carlisle and hire Price.

The conflict over Adolph’s membership extends even to Prime Prep’s legal filings with state agencies.

A November governance filing to the TEA did not list Adolph as a board member. However, a December filing to the Texas secretary of state listed Adolph as a board member.

Elizabeth Basden, Akpom’s attorney, said it appears that the TEA filing was submitted by school administrators, while the secretary of state filing was submitted by the board secretary.