The old legal axiom about reading the fine print in a contract before affixing your signature is as true today as it was when the words were first uttered. The problems always seem to surface in the details.

The old legal axiom about reading the fine print in a contract before affixing your signature is as true today as it was when the words were first uttered. The problems always seem to surface in the details.

Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Jerry O. Payne told The Commercial he was advised his three-year employment contract would be terminated, effective June 30, during brief closed-door executive session held during a called meeting Tuesday of the district board of directors.

“I was told that my contract would be terminated as of June 30,” Payne told a reporter. “I was informed that I will be receiving a letter of termination tomorrow, termination without cause. The board president (Herman Horace) said, ‘we are exercising our 120 day without good cause.’ ”

The board, according to Payne’s contract, “has the right to terminate this agreement without good cause effective June 30 of any year of this contract by giving 120 days written notice to the other party.”

That may meet the legal test, but it does not always meet the smell test. The public – district patrons, district employees and the students – must be told openly and candidly the reasoning behind the termination decision.

That means a discussion in open session, not behind closed doors. The board must detail reasons for the proposed termination and Payne should be allowed a reasonable period to defend his actions. There should be three rules for such a public meeting: 1) Tell the truth; 2) Tell the truth; and 3) Don’t lie to the public.

Since the board room has limited seating capacity, the directors may want to move the public session to the auditorium at Pine Bluff High School or rent the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

The board and Payne have sparred for months. Several times we have considered suggesting the district install a metal detector in the hallway leading to the board room to check for weapons, since the tongue is the one weapon that becomes sharper with use.

If a new superintendent is needed at the helm, the board must act quickly because the shopping season for good administrators has already opened.

Keep your word

The Arkansas Trucking Association agreed to support a proposed fuel tax ballot issue in exchange for a sales-tax exemption. However, the association withdrew support for the diesel tax increase after citing a poll indicating the ballot issue had no chance to be adopted.

The exemption is expected to cost the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department about $4 million annually, with $1.2 million earmarked for cities and counties for local street and road work.

The truckers are opposing a repeal of the exemption by the General Assembly. What happened to the old rule of keeping your word?

Stiffer rules

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has new rules that prohibit road construction firms that missed deadlines from obtaining additional AHTD contracts until the delayed work is completed.

The highway contractors barred from bidding on new contracts because of missed deadlines can’t circumvent the ban by submitting a bid through another firm that conveniently has the same corporate officers. The message from AHTD seems simple enough: Finish your projects under contract when they involve a missed deadline before taking on additional work. The contractors will be required to certify their officers with the department before being allowed to submit new bids. When you have accepted millions in AHTD dollars to complete a project, it makes sense that the work should be completed on time. The new rules provide a penalty for some who miss deadlines.