MOU discussion resurfaces at LaFayette Coucil meeting

Published 10:20 am Wednesday, January 24, 2024

It’s been months since a memorandum of understanding was signed between LaFayette Mayor Kenneth Vines and the Chambers County School District that prevented protestors from holding signage during school board meetings. However, the MOU was still a topic of discussion at Monday night’s LaFayette City Council meeting and resulted in the meeting going into executive session due to the threat of pending litigation. 

Council member Tammie Williams — who has protested at CCSD meetings — made an impassioned statement about the citizens’ right to a peaceful protest. The protests have been a result of the CCSD choosing to build its new consolidated high school in Valley instead of LaFayette, as well as other issues.

“That was a direct violation of our constitutional rights,” Williams said of the MOU. “I will say it tonight, and I will continue to say it.”

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The Chambers County School Board announced the MOU and the rules it enforced during its October meeting. The MOU signed by Mayor Kenneth Vines and City Attorney Mac Tucker stated that the city police would enforce the rules of conduct such as not holding signs or chanting during public meetings. 

Many members of the LaFayette City Council said in October they were not aware that Vines was signing a MOU with the school district. 

Since the MOU was signed, litigation has been threatened against the city by unnamed parties.

Council member Terry Mangram asked Tucker to address what if any, civil rights were violated by the MOU. 

“In my review of what I’ve seen, I don’t think there was any,” Tucker said. “… That’s my opinion at this point.”

However, Tucker advised the council members not to discuss the matter in detail during the open meeting. 

“Since a lawsuit has been threatened, we don’t need to discuss any merits of that in an open meeting,” Tucker said.

Despite his advice, Williams said she would like to comment. She was part of the protest at the school board meeting when the MOU was announced in October. CCSD Board Chair Jeffery Finch began the meeting by announcing the MOU and the rule that required the protesters to leave their signs outside of the meeting room. 

At the October school board meeting, Williams asked Finch to show her the document that stated that rule but he declined. The Valley Times-News received the document after requesting it the day after the meeting. 

“Nobody was doing anything wrong,” Williams said. “We have a right to a peaceful protest. That’s our constitutional right.”

Williams maintained that the protest was peaceful and making them remove their signs was a violation of their right to freedom of speech.

Tucker said the MOU is in line with the mayor’s responsibility to hold executive authority over the police department. Since the school board’s central office is in the city of LaFayette’s police jurisdiction, the city is required to keep the peace if necessary.

“He did not promise anything that we were not already bound to do,” Tucker said. 

Williams referred to months prior when the LaFayette City Council requested a meeting with Superintendent Casey Chambley to discuss the purchase of the J.P. Powell Middle School building. The council was interested in the building as a potential new community center.

“When we asked Casey to come talk to us, Casey told us flat out no,” Williams said. “But when he called y’all, y’all ran on over there and signed those papers.”

Tucker suggested that the council go into executive session to discuss the issue further due to the threat of litigation, which they did at the end of the meeting.