Khelfaoui Says Meeting a ‘sham,’ Calls It Off Again

November 9, 2018

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LOWELL -- Call it off.

In the latest twist in a roller coaster of scheduling and rescheduling, Superintendent Salah Khelfaoui informed the School Committee Thursday he no longer wants a hearing before the committee regarding his employment.

“Since we’re not going to get any fair treatment we’re going to the next stage,” he said.

Though this is not the first time Khelfaoui has called the hearing process a “sham,” the announcement represents a departure from earlier statements to the Sun and WCAP where he called for a public hearing.

“When we finally got down to looking at the hearing, the process of the hearing ... (my attorney) felt really upset,” Khelfaoui said. “We don’t have adequate access or even response.”

Khelfaoui said he believes his termination following the hearing was a foregone conclusion with four of the seven School Committee members in vocal opposition to his continued employment.

He also took issue with the handling of the hearing preparation by City Solicitor Christine O’Connor. According to Khelfaoui, his legal representation twice consulted with the state Public Records Division after difficulty obtaining requested records from the state. He also said his attorney Michael Long sent a list of about 30 witnesses to the city, but heard back from neither the city solicitor nor any of the witnesses.

O’Connor did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday afternoon.

When asked about these allegations, Mayor Bill Samaras said he must be fair to all parties and cannot comment.

“I cannot make any comments at this point,” Samaras said. “I have the responsibility to protect the city.”

With Khelfaoui’s withdrawal from the hearing comes the threat of a lawsuit, which Khelfaoui said his legal representation expects to file after he is officially terminated by the district.

According to Samaras, the School Committee was polled for availability to schedule a hearing for Wednesday, Oct. 14, possibly continuing into the next day. They agreed on a 2 p.m. start time and the meeting was posted on Thursday.

“A few hours later the city received notice from Dr. Khelfaoui’s attorney that neither the Superintendent nor his attorney will appear at the requested hearing on the grounds that the hearing is a sham,” Samaras wrote in a statement.

Instead, Khelfaoui’s attorney drafted a 35-page document with hundreds of pages of attached exhibits in response to a multi-page Aug. 24 letter drafted from the School Committee.

The copies of the response documents, contained in inches thick binders, contest the reasons for Khelfaoui’s termination outlined by the Aug. 24 letter. The binders were delivered to the Mayor’s Office Thursday, according to Khelfaoui.

Neither party has made the contents of the Aug. 24 letter public. When asked for the response document, Khelfaoui said this is handled by his attorneys, though it will likely become public record during the court case he plans to file.

Samaras said whether a meeting will proceed next Wednesday is in discussion.

The School Committee voted to start the process of terminating Khelfaoui and placed him on paid administrative leave on July 18. Since then, Khelfaoui has continued to collect his salary, earning close to $60,000 since he was placed on leave.

In the intervening months, many School Committee meetings have focused on a review of the current budget, resulting in a described $2.48 million deficit, even after receiving millions in unbudgeted revenue.

At least four dates for the hearing have been floated and postponed for a number of reasons, including ongoing settlement negotiations. One meeting was rescheduled due to a posting technically following Khelfaoui’s request for a public hearing after the meeting was posted as an executive session.

Earlier this week both parties announced settlement negotiations had failed, days after attorneys reached an “agreement in principal.” Khelfaoui said the sticking point was a non-disparagement clause, which he wanted included before signing the agreement.

The superintendent said he is in discussions with another job opportunity starting Jan. 1 at an unnamed “educational institution.”

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins

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