"She didn't think that should be a priority," Pomponio said. "It didn't have much to do with education."
Manchin, Jackson and Linger voted to terminate Marple, in addition to fellow board members William White, Michael Green and Robert Dunlevy.
Marple, Gayle Manchin disagree on project
Last year, Marple called on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to explain the state's "lack of progress" in completing a federal stimulus project designed to bring high-speed Internet to schools and other public facilities across West Virginia.
Marple wrote a five-page letter to the state commerce secretary raising questions about how the government planned to pay Frontier, the company leading the project, with federal grant funds and expressed concern about previous related contracts.
After Marple's letter, Gayle Manchin publicly expressed praise for the project during a Board of Education meeting.
Manchin later suggested the board write a letter supporting the Internet project, but Marple resisted, according to Pomponio.
"I do know that, at one point, Gayle said she would like for the Department of Education to defend the [broadband access] process. She made a rhetorical comment, in public, that it would be good for the public school system," Johnson said. "She was unhappy because the department didn't put out a press release.
Education contracts have come under fire before
This is not the first time contracts have been at the center of controversy for the state Department of Education.
In the early 1990s, then-state schools superintendent Hank Marockie and Attorney General Darrell McGraw went to court over a contract between the Department of Education and IBM and Jostens Learning Corp. to buy computers for schools.
McGraw, who recently lost his seat as attorney general and is married to Marple, claimed the contract did not abide by state bidding regulations.
Marockie pushed to expedite the process because he said time was being wasted and students were going without computers. The computers were being distributed as part of a program headed by Caperton, who was governor at that time, to train students to work with new technology.
It was later ruled that McGraw did not have the authority to stop the contract.
Johnson, Haden and board member Jenny Phillips, who also voted against Marple's firing and plans to resign, said no-bid contracts have been an underlying issue for the board at times.
"I don't know what the problem is that we have to deal with things without transparency," Johnson said.
'There's no lawsuit,' board's attorney says
Board of Education members have been advised not to comment on the matters while the lawsuit is pending, according to a spokeswoman.
Victor Flanagan of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown and Poe, the firm representing the Board of Education, said because the supplemental brief that addresses the no-bid contract allegations was filed Friday, the same day the board was required to respond to the original lawsuit, the board cannot elaborate on the matter.
Flanagan urged people to stop referring to the matter as a lawsuit and said that, because it is a writ of mandamus, it does not hold the same meaning. A writ of mandamus is a court order that mandates a public body to fulfill its official duties or correct an abuse of discretion and is generally used when a party has no alternative forms of review.
"There is no lawsuit at this point -- just a writ of mandamus. It's a very unusual position to take, and it's rarely used. The only issue that is before the court right now is whether the first meeting followed all the rules," Flanagan said. "I'm not going to act like I'm naive. I have heard of the issue with the contract but, to be frank, there's no lawsuit, so there is no need to address it. If they actually file a suit, we will address it then."
In its response to the Supreme Court, filed Friday, the Board of Education claims it did not break any laws by firing Marple, pointing to her position as a "will and pleasure" employee, and that if the court found that they did, the board's wrongdoings would be rectified by holding the subsequent meeting Thursday, where its members again voted to fire her.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.