Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local News

April 11, 2012

BOE remains divided on recurring issues

AMERICUS — The recurring issues of redistricting and legal representation emerged at the Sumter County Board of Education’s work session Monday. With the Board returning to its current nine-district configuration for this election cycle, redistricting is at square one again as Monday’s discussion revealed. The Board’s Chair Edith Ann Green said that the Board needs to decide if they want to go to Atlanta to draw the new district lines or do it locally with the assistance of the River Valley Regional Commission.

Board member Mike Busman brought up last month’s discussion of redistricting, in which he suggested the Board consult the State Attorney General’s Office for “clarity” on where the Board stands with its former redistricting plan that was passed into law by the General Assembly in 2011.

With no correspondence with the Attorney General’s Office, Busman again suggested there be some consultation to determine where the Board stands.

“There’s a state law that we’re in conflict with and we’re confused about and I just want to make sure that we’re doing the right thing,” Busman said.

Board Chair Green said the Board has already received “information” from the U.S. Department of Justice and determined that when state law conflicts with federal law, federal law prevails.

Board member Alice Green told the Chair that there is no indication that the Board has broken a state law, as she said Busman suggests. She then asked, “If we broke a state law, why would the Justice Department allow us to withdraw our submission?”

“That’s a darn good question. I would like to know the answer to that,” Busman responded.

“So, you want information from the State Attorney General?” the Chair asked Busman.

“Yes,” he answered.

Alice Green echoed the Chair’s earlier statement, saying “national law always precedes state law.”

Board Chair Green said the item would be added to Thursday’s agenda. Consulting the State Attorney General for information on House Bill 4EX and Senate Bill 154 will be put to a vote for the majority to decide.

Board member Mike Mock initiated a discussion of the Board’s attorney, Maurice King. Mock said the finance committee has not seen anything come from the attorney regarding fees or requests for payments. Mock inquired at whose direction did King inquire for information regarding the Grand Jury that is conducting a civil inspection of the BOE.

“Who’s authorizing this?” Mock asked, and referred to a story in the Times-Recorder last week reporting on a Superior Court hearing where a judge was to rule on King’s request.

King filed the request, asking for the names, addresses, sex and race of those serving on the Grand Jury.

Mock said the Board has not voted to direct the attorney to do anything but respond to SACS, withdraw the submission from the Justice Department and handle cases leftover from the previous attorney.”

“I’m just curious,” Mock said.

Busman asked if by Thursday Superintendent Roy Brooks could get an itemized account of what the attorney is working on and invoice for his services.

Busman said the Board has met with King two or three times since he was hired, but did not recall discussing the inquiry regarding the Grand Jury and asked Brooks if he had engaged the attorney regarding the Grand Jury inquiry.

“The attorney has a moral obligation ... ” Board Chair Green responded to Busman.

“Ms. Green, did you authorize him to do that or did he do that on his own?” Busman asked.

“I don’t remember a Board ruling; we can look at the minutes to see so,” Busman added.

“We hired this man to be our attorney. He’s supposed to look out for our interests. He has an obligation ... as attorney he wouldn’t be doing his job ... ” the Chair said.

Alice Green told Busman that when he was Board chair, he called the previous firm that represented the Board “consistently” without the Board’s knowledge.

Board member Willa Fitzpatrick suggested that the attorney be “put on call” and then raised her question if the Grand Jury’s civil inspection would turn into a criminal case because she recently received a subpoena for her work e-mail account. Fitzpatrick said here work e-mails were a “waste of time” in regard to the Grand Jury investigation.

Busman pursued the other point that King has performed other “billable things” that he was not aware of and that may have not been necessary.

“We have an obligation to the taxpayers to be stewards of their money,” Busman stated.  “The cash register’s rolling and we don’t know where we stand. We haven’t had a bill yet ... I just want to know if the Board did not direct or the Superintendent did not direct the attorney to do certain things, then he’s either doing it without guidance or an individual is directing him ... ”

Mock asked his original question again regarding the recent newspaper article.

“We never instructed him to go after the Grand Jury,” Mock said.

Board Chair Green responded, reiterating her previous suggestion that the attorney’s actions were informed by “moral obligation.”

“You know what ... that’s not a legitimate answer,” Mock said.

Board member Kelvin Pless asked Superintendent Brooks if he has talked with King about costs or a fee schedule.

Brooks said that the two have met, but he is not authorized to discuss a fee schedule.

“He mentioned to me, in the presence of (assistant superintendent) Donnie Smith,” Brooks said, “what he anticipated would be an hourly (fee) and also a retainer fee.”

Pless then asked Brooks, “as CEO” for the school district, why he did not try to get that information to bring it to the Board.

Brooks responded, saying “there’s a lot of information that I should have and didn’t get. I didn’t get the information about Mr. King being appointed.”

A Board also held a discussion about purchasing iPads or laptops for individual  Board members.

“In light of what’s happened recently and Willa’s job e-mail being subpoenaed, I suggested that the system provide for each of us a means of getting our e-mail,” Board Chair Green said.

Busman said every Board member is given a Sumter Schools e-mail address that can be accessed from any computer and was not in favor of the school system purchasing computers for Board members.

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