Montgomery's Lawyer Mess Probably Isn't Over

A few weeks ago the Montgomery County Board of Education killed superintendent Joshua Powell’s ability to use his personal friend/attorney at board expense. The vote was 3-2 but the community felt empowered after that.

It was a big moment for the county — big enough to capture on video.

His free legal ride at taxpayer expense was over.

Or so it seemed.

Multiple sources on the school board tell us it was all smoke and mirrors. Even they were snowed thinking they’d ended Powell’s free ride.

Turns out? Powell’s friend/attorney — Mike Owsley/ELPO — is one of the lawyers listed on the district’s legal insurance policy. The board’s actual attorney? They’re not listed.

And board members tell us that they may be forced to hire him/reauthorize payment to him due to insurance policy requirements. Primarily because a major decision has to be made this week in a pending lawsuit.

Mind-boggling.

We also hear, though cannot confirm, that Owsley has been billing the board for calls received not just from Powell but from Jacqui Johnston, Phil Rison, Shannon White, Kristi Carter, et al. Allegedly, they call him up for advice when they’re preparing to terminate one of the people (like Dusso, Hall, Reffitt, Henry, Wallace) they can’t get to play along, he tells them how to move the puzzle pieces. If that’s the case, it’s a sign that he could be pushing folks into difficult situations that make them prone to filing lawsuits — lawsuits he gets paid to fight.

If any of that’s true, it’s a big deal. The board has never voted to provide free legal counsel by anyone other than the actual board attorney to Powell’s circle of friends.

But those are just allegations from board members who’ve asked to remain nameless.

We already know, thanks to a report from the State Auditor of Public Accounts, that detailed board attorney billings aren’t reviewed or approved by the board.

Let’s flash back to State Auditor Adam Edelen’s 2013 examination:

Finding 2: Detailed Board Attorney billings are not routinely reviewed and approved by the Board.

While Board members approved the payment of attorney billings as an accounts payable item listed on the consent decree during monthly Board meetings, the billing statements containing details of the work performed by the Board attorneys are submitted to and maintained only by the Superintendent and are not examined by the Board, Board Chair, or Board committee. Concerning District Board attorneys’ billings, the Superintendent stated “[o]ur practice is to forward only the cover or summary sheet of the invoices to our accounts payable department to protect confidential and privileged information.” By following this process, the Superintendent is the only District representative to routinely examine the details of attorney billings. While the Superintendent is the chief officer of the District, the contracts for attorney services clearly document that the attorneys are engaged by the Board, and, as such, the Board should be aware of the services which the Board attorneys are providing.

In discussing this issue with current and former Board members, most believed that they would be provided with detailed statements if they made a request to the District to review the records; however, until recently Board members had not made such requests. According to one Board member who recently made such a request, the Superintendent did not provide the Board member with the information stating that the details associated with the billing statements were related to personnel matters. Upon auditor’s request, the Board Chair and Assistant Board Chair requested and reviewed unredacted Board attorney billing statements and indicated to auditors that all attorney activity recorded within the billings related to District business.

While legal strategy and details relating to personnel matters may not be issues in which the Board should be involved, Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 160.290 states that a Board “shall have control and management of all school funds.” The oversight process established by the Board must include routine monitoring of the superintendent’s use of funds. As such, it is reasonable to expect that Board members should be routinely provided documentation with sufficient detail to assure that the work performed and being paid for by the District is a legitimate expenditure of the District and not work performed to address a matter unrelated to the District.

One would think that after being called out by the State Auditor, the district would begin complying with the law. But one would be wrong. Because just about anything that occurs involving an attorney in Montgomery County is still easily swept under the rug.

Board members tell us they’re continuing to have difficulty accessing billing information.

Montgomery County Schools is still breaking the law.

P.S. Directed at Powell: Keep attacking me personally for reporting information sourced directly from multiple people within the school system. Keep attempting to defame me, Jake, for publishing government documents and open records obtained directly from you that are signed BY YOU. The more you attack me personally, the more motivation I have to follow your every move. I know who wins and it’s not you, hoss.