Other Voices | Lana Noonan: The Devious Bay Waveland School District

The “dog and pony” show that was put on for public view by the majority of the Bay-Waveland School Board, their attorney, Ronnie Artigues, and guest speaker, attorney Jim Keith on the night of February 15 led me to make a Public Records Request for the CD audio of the meeting.

Mr. Keith’s visit to the School District Board meeting was, I assume, at the suggestion of School Board Attorney, Artigues. The bill for his visit, however, will go to the taxpayers. Obviously the Advisory Opinion of Tom Hood, Director of the Mississippi Ethics Commission either didn’t impress Artigues or Keith, or they knew the majority of the board was dumb enough to follow their advice rather than an Ethics Board Opinion. This is not a first for this board and its attorney.

Hood’s Advisory Opinion pertained to the school board appointing Vikki Landry Superintendent. She is the sister of the Business Manager, John McCraw. Long story short, the ethics opinion cited state law and an AG Opinion prohibiting such nepotism, and held that one or the other should resign their position. The brother sister team could not serve together.

Artigues and Keith convinced the board, with the exception of Casey Favre, to defy state law.

Keith even went as far as to tell the board there were “other districts in the state that do this all the time.” When I confronted him after the meeting for the names of those districts, his reply to me was, ” I’d rather not name them. I don’t want them to get reported.” I replied, “Reported for what? You just told this board it was perfectly okay for sister and brother to work together in the Central Office in violation of State law.” I didn’t get any names.

My experience in acquiring the audio of this meeting is evidence of the devious behavior that goes beyond the board and their attorneys.

I started out Monday morning with a Public Records Request for the tape, and Tuesday received a phone call that it was ready. I picked it up, and it would not play on any CD player I owned. So I called Shannon Funk, the school board’s secretary. She offered to make another one.

I picked it up and it too wouldn’t play so I called back and Ms. Funk made me another copy. She then called me and said that she had neglected to use the correct program for making the tape. I picked it up again and this time the audio played just fine, except for one problem:

The part of the meeting where Artigues and Keith did their “dog and pony show” was not on the tape.

So I went back in the office to talk to Ms. Funk about the incomplete tape of the meeting, and she told me, “the recorder was not turned on for that part of the meeting.”

Since I filled out my Public Records Request form for the tape of that school board meeting, one would logically assume to receive the entire meeting on tape. Why wasn’t I told up front that the meeting audio was incomplete?

I can only speculate at this point, but I have to ask myself:

  • Was the 48 hours we wasted with inoperable audio CDs a ploy to put me off so that part of the audio could be erased?
  • Was Ms. Funk instructed to erase the audio?
  • Or was Ms Funk instructed in advance to not record audio of the presentation made by Keith and Artigues.

As an active member of the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government I have worked with a number of different public record custodians including those charged with keeping the minutes of the official meetings. One major reason audio recordings of these public meetings are made is for use as a tool so that the meeting minutes are accurate and complete as well as to avoid he-said she-said type of disputes. Now it appears the school district has deliberately spoilated the audio of a school board meeting where the Board decided to ignore a very recently issued ethics opinion.

That is very important because the school board took action that is in direct violation of an ethics commission opinion was based upon what was said by two lawyers in a meeting where the audio of the segment was either erased, or not recorded. It is taxpayers of this school district that are being abused by this devious behavior.

We now know the majority of the elected and appointed officials in this school district have no concern for the oaths they took to uphold the LAWS of the State of Mississippi. Should we be shocked that the support staff follows suit? I think not.

14 thoughts on “Other Voices | Lana Noonan: The Devious Bay Waveland School District”

  1. So what’s new? Ronnie has always and will always do as he pleases with NO regard for the law. The board should fire him and the person that turned the tape off. Meeting are public, unless in executive session, and should be available for we, the taxpayers, to hear.
    Ego is the strongest obstacle we have to fight. Vicki is so thrilled with the position, her total focus between job and brother is lost due to having the highest position I BWSD and salary. What happened to the children and what’s best for the Board and School administration? Out the window, and the School Board Shame on them. They are elected to serve the people and follow the law. Have they joined forces with Ronnie for no regard for the law.??

    1. The school board (4 of them) weren’t smart enough to see this coming. What has happened is now there is no written or documented record of these two lawyers (Keith and Artigues) advising the board to act in violation of state law. So, the only thing the documented minutes will show will be the “board’s action!” Clever and shrewd on the part of these lawyers. Wish I could think of some other adjectives to describe them like maybe honest and upstanding, but that just doesn’t come to mind.

  2. The tape of a public meeting is a public record. You have to
    apply for a copy of it through a
    “Public Records Request”

    1. No, Rachel. I think they just take notes. Never have seen a recorder except when TV stations cover meetings.

  3. There seems to be an incredibly small group of people able to be “public servants ” in and around BSL… and most are related. Hmm.
    Seems we could use some strongly worded nepotism laws/ordinances around here. Good grief, the library system has them but not the city. We must have more intelligent people somewhere.. Put your hands up! Elections soon. Qualifying ends 3/3.

  4. Thank you, Lana and Alliance for your diligence.

    Excellent article in The Sun Herald on this debacle yesterday.

    Artigues did his best to crawfish his way out of the hot mess he helped create. Not buying it. He is too smart. He knows better. Total CYA move bringing in Jim Keith.

    Two elected board members voted yes. Two appointed board members voted yes. One appointed board member voted no.

    At least one gets it.

    Never attribute to malice, that which can be reasonably explained by stupidity. ~ Hanlon

    TWO ATTORNEYS advised the school board that it was OK to approve the contract renewal for the district’s business administrator (brother of the newly appointed superintendent) despite TWO STATE ETHICS OPINIONS advising the complete opposite.

    And the taxpayers continue to foot the bill for this sort of “legal” advice.

    The trouble with law is lawyers. ~ Darrow

  5. Not as much the trouble with lawyers ( I actually know some decent ones) as much as the trouble with egos!!
    I am still looking for the reason why the School Board Attorney cares who the Superintendent is??!!
    Going to great lengths to secure Landry?! Why?!
    The School Board members need to be reminded they took an oath of office to uphold the laws of this state, not reinvent them.

  6. Anything Ronnie does has a hidden agenda. Another puppet in his collection…
    It is all about control with him.

  7. Lana, are you pursuing a formal ethics complaint? We truly need someone with your voice and your determination to see to it that this doesn’t go by the waste side like so many other things.

  8. Also, what is the status of Mayor Fillingame appointing someone to the school board? According to other sites, the Mayor still has him in this holdover status for 180 days but I saw nothing on the council’s agenda about this decision.

    1. That’s a good question! School board folks are away at training and not sure we should pick up the tab for Maurice’s travel if he is not on the school board. Has anyone thought about that? Of course not because its not their money … it taxpayer money.

      1. Of course not, that would be because none of them are from the city and don’t pay taxes as city residents. Not Mrs. Landry, not Mrs. Kristin Ladner, not Dr. Cherie Labat, not Mr. Jon McCraw. I’m sure they are quite content collecting big fat paychecks on our backs.

  9. Speaking of residence (i.e. where one lives), has anyone heard the ongoing drama with Dr. Labat voting in Bay St. Louis yet residing in the unincorporated area of Hancock County? Sounds like a tax fraud issue and a voter fraud issue to me.

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