Former R2 superintendent sued by LR5 trustees

IRMO – A former superintendent of Richland Two and other Midlands area school districts was “politically motivated” when he filed a complaint against a former employer, according to a recently filed lawsuit.

On November 10, Lexington-Richland 5 filed suit against Dr. Steve Hefner, seeking unspecified “actual, consequential and punitive damages,” as well as court costs and attorney’s fees.

A response to the suit had not been filed as of late Tuesday.

Hefner served as superintendent of the Richland Two school district from 1994-2010, and also superintendent of Lexington-Richland 5 from 2011-2018. He was named State Superintendent of the Year in 2002 and 2015.

But it’s more recent activity that prompted Lexington-Richland 5 to sue the retired superintendent.

According to the litigation, Hefner “intentionally interfered with the lawful contract” that Lexington-Richland 5 inked with HeartEd, LLC, an agency that provides interim superintendent services.

“Hefner’s interference was unjustified and malicious, justifying the award of punitive damages,” the suit states. “As a result of Hefner’s malicious interference, the District has been damaged.”

Those damages include “injury to reputation, loss of goodwill in the community, [and] loss of the economic benefit gained by the employment relationship between the District and HeartEd.”

Lastly, the suit states the district incurred added legal costs and risks losing state funding due to potentially losing students.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of another superintendent controversy relating to Lexington-Richland 5.

In June, Dr. Christina Melton, the district’s immediate past superintendent, abruptly resigned weeks after being named State Superintendent of the Year. She succeeded Hefner as superintendent after he retired.

Melton’s sudden departure prompted the resignation of former Lexington-Richland 5 board member Ed White.

In a prepared statement, White stated that the board forced Melton to resign, according to documents included in the agenda packet for the board’s June 28 meeting.

“My fellow Board members signed a secret settlement agreement with Dr. Melton to terminate the Superintendent’s Contract without a public vote,” White’s statement said.

“They wanted to present the false façade that she had resigned and keep it from the public until after the school year adjourned, ostensibly to avoid the criticism they would receive for their actions,” the statement continued.

On June 28, the Lexington-Richland 5 board voted to censure White over his remarks, board records show.

As to the lawsuit, which doesn’t detail the circumstances of Melton’s departure, the district contracted with HeartEd to provide interim superintendent services. Doing so would save the district $65,000 a year, the lawsuit states.

In August, after becoming aware of the contract, Hefner filed a complaint with Cognia, the district’s accrediting agency.

Hefner’s complaint included false information and defamatory statements, according to the district’s lawsuit.

District attorneys wrote Hefner, demanding that he retract the complaint and issue an apology, but he never did, the suit states.

Meantime, Cognia was dismissive of Hefner’s complaint, saying complaints the agency receives “are often politically motivated,” according to the suit.

“Hefner’s motivation in intentionally interfering with the contract between HeartEd and the District is wrongful, malicious and politically motivated,” the suit states.

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