March 13, 2003 – Acrimony was the order of the day Thursday as accusations and barbs dominated a Board of Education meeting at which a motion was passed, 5-3, to oust Dr. Jorge "Tito" Galiber as chair.
There was disagreement as to whether the move was legal.
According to a release sent by the board executive director, Evadney Hodge, the meeting was called to "reorganize the board." Newly hired board attorney Nandi Sekou said a reorganization of the board requires a two-thirds majority vote. The five board members who presented a signed "Petition to Remove Chairman" maintained their position held water.
However, attorney Sekou said the vote on the petition was not valid. "The bylaws say the board may elect a chairman and vice chairman," she said, "and they may be replaced by members, but it doesn't specify how it should take place." She added: "In the absence of specifics, you must comply with 'Roberts Rules of Order.'" That reference work states that a two-thirds vote is necessary. For the nine-member board, that would be six votes.
Galiber was the only board member not present at the meeting. He had written the board secretary, Gerald E. Hodge Sr., on Monday stating that he would not be able to attend Thursday's meeting because of prior commitments. He said, in part, "Unlike you and Mr. Daniel, I am not a retiree and cannot meet on a whim."
He concluded by saying: "I wish the five of you would stop wasting the government's funds and work for the best interests of the children of the Virgin Islands."
Galiber sent an addendum to the letter noting that he had a clinic from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday and saying he didn't understand "the rush to have this meeting."
The petition was signed by the board vice chair, Harry Daniel; Yvonne H. Williams-Henry; Gerald Hodge, former board chair Keith Richards; and Linda V. Thomas. It reads: "We, the undersigned and duly elected members of the V.I. Board of Education, have decided to remove Dr. Jorge Galiber from the position of chairman and place the current vice chairman as the acting chairman.
"This emergency action is necessary to protect the interest of the V.I. Board of Education the election of a new chairman will take place at the next scheduled board meeting."
One of the board members opposing the petition, Malik Sekou, said: "It's not a petition — it's a coup." He also told his colleagues that "what we did here today is wrong."
Also in opposition were St. Croix members Claudette Petersen and Terrence D. Joseph. Although Daniel and Richards claimed the petition had "been circulated" on St. Croix, Petersen, Joseph and Malik Sekou all said they had not received a copy.
"This is the first time I'm seeing it," Joseph said. Petersen and Malik Sekou concurred.
Richards said it was "not a document that had to go to all members."
According to reports in the V.I. Daily News, the board had been at odds with Galiber's management style. Some members were displeased by a press conference he called on March 5, apparently without consulting other members. At that time he announced the board had drafted teacher certification guidelines but would not say what they were. He also announced the hiring of Nandi Sekou, a report said, without stating when a vote was taken on that action.
Nandi Sekou is the ex-wife of Malik Sekou. She was hired to replace Ronald Russell, who resigned from the post after being elected to the 25th Legislature.
Malik Sekou called the vote on Thursday "morally and ethically unacceptable." He said: "It stinks to heaven. They show no courage. They wait until Tito [Galiber] can't make it. It lacks moral authority."
Petersen told the five: "The petition is obsolete. I'm a mom, not a politician. I want to go home now. You play dirty and you play rough."
Joseph, the board's public relations officer, questioned the vote. No agenda was presented, he said, which is not normal board procedure. "We need to validate the process; that's Boardship 101," he said.
Ignoring of counsel's advice an issue
All three opposing the vote raised the issue of why the board had hired an attorney, only to disregard her advice. "We hired her for her legal advice, and now we are ignoring her," Petersen said.
Daniel said the five who brought the petition "figure it's time to make a change, to move on. A majority has decided." His explanation was that "an ethical investigation can become a whole long story, and we didn't feel it was the thing to do. I think we're right; we elected the chair, and we have the right to remove him."
In answer to repeated calls for an explanation of why the five wanted Galiber replaced, Thomas said: "I will answer that. On numerous occasions, he has spoken for us, though the board has asked [him] time after time not to do so. He cannot speak for the whole board."
Shaking her head, she continued: "After this last time, I have had it. He placed the board in an embarrassing position. I have no apologies; it's time to move on."
Following the vote, Daniel, eliminating further discussion, banged the gavel and declared the meeting adjourned.
Afterward, Malik Sekou expressed disappointment and frustration. "We decided we wanted governance, and now we question the attorney, and she is correct," he said.
He also said the hiring of his ex-wife did not present a conflict of interest. "I was present for the vote for her, but I kept a very low key; I stepped back," he said. "I respect her professionally, and there is no conflict. We have been divorced for some time."
He also said there was "nothing secret" about the board hiring her. "It was not well organized, but it was no secret," he said.
Reconsideration to be sought
At the next school board meeting, Malik Sekou said, "I will use my political skills to get them to reconsider. Right now it's gloomy, negative, and the kids are the ones who will suffer. This is the third time they have tried this."
The other attempts took place in executive session, he said, adding, "We try to keep internal matters among ourselves."
He charged that the reason for Thursday's vote was "ambition, pettiness on some people's part," but he declined to name names.
Petersen and Joseph said they will back Malik Sekou in trying to get Daniel to reconsider the action. "We need proper procedures, without which we have total chaos," Joseph said after the meeting, lamenting the board action.
Petersen reiterated: "I am a mom. I'm about getting things done. What about the "No child Left Behind' program? We'll find ourselves in 2005 with no teachers unless we address the issues."
Gerald Hodge, asked about Malik Sekou's plan to ask for a reconsideration, said it was "very clear we had the right to remove him. I'm solid. I don't want to go into details. I'll stay above problems, but if I feel in my heart to correct a problem I have to act on it."
He challenged Nandi Sekou's comments. "Who is she representing? She came in representing Galiber. I could not tell a soul that that lady was representing the board today."
Daniel said later he would not change his mind on the vote. "That would be going backwards," he said. "We want to move forward with the board certification guidelines."
Daniel said the guidelines will be made public soon, possibly by the end of the month.
Galiber, a staff physician at Juan F. Luis Hospital, said later Thursday: "I really don't have any comment. I'm just hearing what they did now — I just finished seeing my last patient."
He said he would consult with his attorney and then make pu
blic his plans.
Two years ago, Galiber replaced Richards, of St. Thomas, as board chair. The position rotates between the two districts every four years.
In another dispute, Petersen also took issue with the management style of Evadney Hodge. "If we're going to clean house," Petersen said during Thursday's meeting, "we need to get rid of the executive director."
Petersen had written to Galiber on March 8 lodging a formal complaint against Evadney Hodge, asking that an "investigation be conducted immediately."
Petersen said the executive director pits one board member against another and "acts as a board member. We have to be accountable to the public, not to her," she said.
Evadney Hodge's shortcomings, Petersen said, include "insubordination, failure to deal with the board members impartially, and failure to inform the board about pertinent information" concerning Education Department and Board of Education policies.
Hodge declined to comment on Petersen's letter after the meeting, other than to say that "it would be unethical to report on anything a board member said."

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