AUBURN — The School Committee voted 5-3 Wednesday night to disqualify a lawyer Chairwoman Bonnie Hayes hired, without committee approval, to help evaluate Superintendent Katy Grondin.

The lawyer from the Portland law firm of Drummond Woodsum was in the audience, but when an audience member asked which person it was nobody answered.

Hayes was asked where he was in the room.

“I don’t know,” she said.

The incredulous audience paused for a moment in silence, then erupted vocally, saying they found it hard to believe she didn’t know if he was there.

Taken aback, Hayes immediately called a recess and consulted with committee member Faith Fontaine, Grondin and a couple of advisers.

The board then voted in favor of Alfreda Fournier’s motion to disqualify the lawyer.

Fournier, Robert Mennealy, Karen Mathieu, Brian Belknap and Daniel Poisson voted in support of the motion. Hayes, Fontaine and Patricia Gautier voted against.

Afterward, the committee went into executive session without the lawyer to discuss Grondin’s evaluation and whether they will offer her a new contract. The executive session lasted more than an hour.

The ongoing controversy has inflamed a large group of Auburn parents and other residents, who are upset the committee has not evaluated Grondin annually, as required, since she signed her contract three years ago.

Fournier’s motion noted that the full committee was never advised about the lawyer.

“This decision was clearly made solely by School Committee Chair Bonnie Hayes,” Fournier said. “Furthermore, the School Committee was not given the opportunity to vote on whether we desired the presence of a lawyer, nor given the opportunity to approve expenditures for the lawyer’s services.”

Mathieu, who joined the committee less than two months ago following the death of Chairman Tom Kendall, said voting on the lawyer should have been a routine matter voted upon months ago, long before she was named to the board. That she didn’t know until just recently frustrated her, she said.

Although the lawyer was initially disqualified, the board could reverse itself and bring him back if the full committee approves the hiring.

Before moving into executive session, Fournier promised that the committee would not discuss process, procedure or policy behind close doors. She said the board did not follow “the correct protocol” at its Sept. 4 executive session when such topics were discussed.

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