By Othor Cain,
Blistering testimony began last week in the termination hearing for Cassandra Williams, the former superintendent of the Canton Public School District, who board officials say was fired because of her lack of professionalism and discriminatory accusations.
For two days the school board, represented by Attorney Lisa Ross, presented teachers, administrators and other district employees that gave scathing testimony about Williams’ management style. Some even presented secretly recorded audio from meetings Williams held, in an attempt to paint her as an overbearing leader.
Beverly Luckett, the school district’s public relations director, said she was afraid Williams would run her over with her car. “I was sitting in a meeting and Williams, who had been known to say derogatory things about my husband…one day said I was so mad with him [Dwight Luckett] that I could have run him over with my car,” Luckett said. “A short time later, I was in the parking lot walking to my car and Mrs. Williams drove past me and I was afraid that she would run me over…all I could think about was what she had said in a previous meeting.”
At one point during Luckett’s testimony, she became extremely emotional and began crying almost uncontrollably. “Mrs. Williams is a mastermind of manipulative behavior…she has a way of pretending to be someone that she is not,” Luckett said as she wiped tears away.
Luckett, who has worked under four superintendents during her tenure with the district, said she was moved to different offices, had title and job duty changes and had never been given a substantial raise since starting with the district in 2014. “I had one or two cost of living increases but nothing comparable to what public relations directors make.”
Sources say Luckett’s husband Dwight, who is the current interim superintendent for the school district recently presented to the board a salary increase of $10K for her. The board approved. This information was not made public during the hearing as the budget has to be presented to the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) July 31.
Lovie J. Chesser, a former teacher in the district, testified that she was accused of sabotage. “I didn’t come to work for Mrs. Williams. I came to work for the students and that should have been clear by my work record,” Chesser said. “So, no, I was not trying to sabotage Mrs. Williams…to do so would mean I would sabotage the students.”
Williams shocked many attending the hearing by making an exit before testimony got underway. “I’ve been doing these kinds of hearings for 20 years and I’ve never witnessed a plaintiff leave their hearing…if anything, you stay and fight,” Ross said.
Williams’ attorney John Christopher, who previously served as the school boards attorney, said he advised his client (Williams) to leave. “There’s no rule or law that requires a party to sit in a court room during the proceedings…it would be difficult for Mrs. Williams to sit and hear all of this stuff,” Christopher said. “When it is our turn to present, Mrs. Williams will take the stand.”
Christopher said this has been the longest hearing he’s ever encountered and he expects to be able to present Williams’ side of the story when the hearing reconvenes within the next two-weeks.
Sources close to Williams say that it was important for Williams to have this hearing because the public and others should be able to see the bullying and unlawful firings that happen in Canton on a recurring bases. The superintendent before Williams, Ike Haynes was also terminated by the board and Ross was his attorney.
Attorney Leyser Hayes, a former Special Assistant Attorney General is serving as the hearing officer during these proceedings. Hayes who is also a member of the greek sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha and recently ran for the position of Southeastern Regional director, is connected to school board member Shivochie Dinkins. Dinkins, who is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, can be seen on Facebook in several photos with Hayes. The Mississippi Link is seeking an ethics opinion from the Mississippi State Ethics Commission about Hayes’ ability to be impartial.
The next hearing date is tentatively scheduled for July 30.