Trustees reject bill from lawyer

LOGO HOUSTON School RAM

HOUSTON – The Houston school board voted last week to reject a bill from an attorney hired by the district to help fix a leaking roof in and who was later dismissed.

Trustees rejected the bill from lawyer Bill Murphree and Superintendent Dr. Steve Coker said the decision was made on the grounds the attorney had not completed his obligation to the district. Coker said co-attorney Gary Carnathan has not submitted a bill to the district as of Friday.

The decision was made after yet another executive session to discuss potential litigation. Trustees have been looking to stop leaks at the Houston School of Science and Technology for more than two years.

“This roof has been very frustrating to teachers, the board and the district as a whole,” said Coker. “We have tried to cajole, coerce and arbitrate and the roof still leaks.”

Coker said the district has been told by NewPath Strategy Consultants, not to get on the roof or attempt to stop leaks.

NewPath’s Warren Bowen said after last weeks meeting he didn’t know how long it would be before the roof was fixed. Bowen also would not give a cost to fix the roof or who his company felt was at fault for the leaking roof.

Trustees dismissed Tupelo attorneys Carnathan and Murphree in January after a closed door executive session that lasted an hour-and-a-half and was billed as a need to discuss “pending or possible litigation.”

Carnathan and Murphree would not talk about the change as they exited that meeting. Following executive session the board voted to seek new legal counsel.

School Board President Bart Munlin said a conflict of interest had been brought to the board’s attention and the decision was made to seek new counsel. Munlin would not elaborate other than to say one of the law offices had a relationship with one of the businesses named in the district’s on-going efforts to get a roof that was repaired to stop leaking every time it rains.

Murphree, of Mitchell, McNutt & Sams, and Carnathan, of Carnathan & Malski, were hired in June to to handle litigation for the district. Carnathan and Murphree were charged with gathering data and information from the district and its consultants on why a roof installed approximately three years ago has not stopped leaks at the School of Science and Technology, formerly known as the Vo-Tech Center.

The district’s legal battle has named roofing material maker GAF, contractor Copper Top Roofing and project architect Pryor & Morrow.

The district contracted with Copper Top in 2010 to fix the roof at a cost of $240,000. The school board has repeatedly contacted architect Roger Pryor and Copper Top since the roof was installed saying they are not satisfied with the work.

Murphree told the school board in December the suit was in arbitration. The board had repeatedly met in closed session with attorneys to discuss the case.

In August the district budgeted $300,000 for attorney fees for potential litigation to force Pryor & Morrow, CopperTop Roofing and GAF Inc., to repair a leaking roof at the Houston School of Science and Technology. The district has also budgeted $400,000 to repair the roof if litigation fails.

Pryor and Copper Top have said the problem is with condensation pans on old air conditioning units and not the roof that was installed.

At a March 2011 meeting Pryor said the type of roof installed does not have a history of failure and he believes it was installed correctly.

Trustees Bart Munlin and Rayburn Parks climbed on and inspected the roof in March 2011 to try and find a solution to chronic leaks that have plagued the building.

The district hired NewPath Strategy Consultants, of Jackson, in June 2012 to develop a plan to assess construction and estimate costs for repairing leaks at the Houston Vocational Building and replacing air conditioners.

In April 2013 the board met with NewPath in executive session and then voted to have Board Attorney Jimmy Hood send a “strongly worded” letter of notice to all parties responsible for the roof on the School of Science and Technology.

Hood said at that time the district has repeatedly tried to avoid litigation and just wants the roof fixed.

Hood recommended Carnathan and Murphree to handle the district’s legal concerns based on their expertise and specialization in this type litigation.

Munlin said last month that trustees have asked NewPath to help them find a Jackson attorney with expertise in this type of litigation.

Trustees have met repeatedly in executive session for almost a year to talk about how they might go about getting the roof fixed or be reimbursed for work they believe was not done properly.

And the roof continues to leak. Teachers and students were exposed to wet ceiling tiles and puddles in the floor during the last school year.

Houston School Superintendent Dr. Steve Coker told trustees at the June 10 board meeting that who pays to get the roof to stop leaking will influence whether the district pays to fix the roof or repave the driveway around the Houston Middle School and High School. The paving project has been quoted to carry a $125,000 price-tag.

“We paid for roof and we expected it to keep the rain out,” said Coker. “Those responsible for designing, installing and constructing the product that was put on have all indicated it is not their fault. “As regrettable as all this is, the board has stepped up to the task and is seeking results through the courts,” said Coker. “I think the time involved shows we have tried to work this out. All this district wants and expects is a roof that doesn’t leak.”

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