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Reynolds: "Lambert said I gave them the dagger to stab her in the back"
BEAUMONT - by Lauren Huet
A Jefferson County judge ruled to maintain a temporary restraining order that's keeping BISD from firing one of its employees. Ron Reynolds is seeking a Temporary Injunction against BISD. He's trying to preserve his job as the school business volunteer supervisor. His name was on a list of employees facing a Reduction in Force (RIF) and he says it's retaliation for providing information to the media.
The hearing lasted all day Tuesday in Judge Tom Rugg's courtroom at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Patricia Lambert, the former BISD assistant superintendent, was the first to testify. Laurence Watts, Reynolds' lawyer, questioned her first.
Watts brought up that the Examiner requested Patricia Lambert's personnel file last year through the Freedom of Information Act, and Reynolds fulfilled the newspaper's request. Lambert says she was upset, not because the document was released, but because she claims Reynolds failed to redact her social security number from the document.
Lambert said she, BISD Superintendent Dr. Timothy Chargois, Sybil Comeaux, and Jessie Haynes met with Reynolds on June 19, 2013, to discuss what happened. Lambert testified that BISD procedures for open records requests changed after that incident.
Watts called Examiner reporter Jennifer Johnson to the stand, who brought Lambert's personnel file. Johnson says Lambert's social security number is nowhere to be found in the document.
Lambert was called back to the witness stand. During questioning, Lambert said she didn't have the authority to "instruct" Reynolds. Watts then read an email between Reynolds and Lambert, where Lambert told Reynolds to "cease all contact" with a certain group, and for him to give her the group's number so she could contact them instead.
Watts also had Lambert read an email she sent out to BISD's communications department, instructing employees not to speak to the media without her permission. Watts asked Lambert if she told Dr. Chargois she was mad at Reynolds because he had acted like her boss. She said no. Watts then read an email from Lambert to Chargois about Reynolds. In the email she wrote, "Look at this. As if he was my boss."
The former Executive Director of Human Resources, Sybil Comeaux, was then called to the witness stand. Watts said after the personnel file incident, the district created a new position to handle open records requests and took that responsibility from Reynolds.
Comeaux testified that she did not know Reynolds was reassigned until he told her he was no longer responsible for FOIA requests. She also said she never gave any suggestions as to who should be part of the reduction in force.
Watts called Jessie Haynes, the special assistant to the superintendent, to the stand. Haynes says on June 19, 2013, she went to visit Johnson, the Examiner reporter, looked at Lambert's file, and saw Lambert's social security number. When Watts asked why she didn't bring it to Johnson's attention, Haynes said it was because the Examiner would "take it and misuse it."
She also claimed Reynolds gave copies of Lambert's file to school board members Mike Neil and Tom Neild.
Watts showed Haynes the personnel file requested by the Examiner. Haynes looked through it and couldn't find a social security number. She said she didn't think it was the same copy she saw a year ago, because the document was redacted with white lines instead of black lines, which is how BISD's system redacts documents.
Ron Reynolds then took the stand. He said he had been a liaison between BISD and the media. Reynolds also was a ghost writer for Dr. Chargois and wrote his journals. He said Haynes and Lambert referred to him as "one of them," or one of the media because he previously worked as a reporter for KFDM News.
Reynolds testified that he never released Lambert's social security number and never gave Lambert's personnel file to Neil or Neild. He also said he did the redaction of Lambert's file by hand because Comeaux told him not to put Lambert's personnel file in the FOIA system.
After she found out he had given the Examiner her file, "Lambert said I gave them [the media] the dagger to stab her in the back," said Reynolds.
Dr. Chargois, Haynes, Lambert, and Comeaux met with Reynolds that night, June 19, 2013, to discuss what happened. Afterwards, Reynolds noticed a change in his duties. A week later, Dr. Chargois told him he would no longer attend cabinet meetings. His office was moved out of the superintendent's suite and later moved to the Annex.
After Reynolds returned from Thanksgiving break, his duties were given to another employee and he was reassigned to "partnership in education supervisor." He was no longer the communication specialist. He says the district created a position to handle open records requests, and gave it to a former math teacher.
Reynolds learned he would be terminated when his position was posted to the board agenda for June 19, 2014.
The attorney for BISD argued the superintendent has the power to assign and reassign at-will employees. He also says the district is in dire financial straits and a reduction in force is a legitimate way to reduce expenditures.
Reynolds says he is being targeted because he gave the media information that the district didn't want shared.
"Information that is well known and now subject to an FBI investigation would have never been made available and we would not be at this point here," said Reynolds. "And I believe that [the district] understands that and they know that and that's the main reason for retaliation."
And he says he released information about Lambert in particular.
"Her personnel file, then information that shows that while she was the principal of Central High School she spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on her son's graphic artist business," said Reynolds.
Judge Rugg agreed to uphold the temporary restraining order. He will write an opinion deciding whether or not to order a temporary injunction against the district by July 11th. Watts says he hopes it goes to trial.
"Unfortunately transparency in government is not what I believe that the Beaumont Independent School District old regime is all about. It wants opacity and not transparency," said Watts.