Colwell ouster plotted early on

By Trina Trice

Ousted Clayton School superintendent Dan Colwell's fate was sealed 11 days before the school board officially voted to fire him, according to documents obtained by the News Daily.

In addition, some school board members discussed with their hired attorneys the employees they wished demoted, according to the documents, even though board members are only supposed to deal with policy and not personnel changes.

The documents also show that taxpayers might have to pay attorneys Terry Jackson and Lee Sexton almost $13,000 more in legal fees than it initially thought, or a total of $83,843.50. Some school board members hired Jackson and Sexton to handle the removal of Colwell.

The school board is currently disputing a $70,849.50 bill charged by Jackson and Sexton in an upcoming fee arbitration hearing facilitated by the Georgia Bar Association.

However, the board has been charged an additional $12,994 in fees by Jackson since the board decided to dispute the fees at a February retreat in Peachtree City, according to the documents.

As early as Jan. 2, Ware telephoned Jackson asking for "assistance with Colwell and the Clayton County school board's intent to remove him as superintendent," the document states.

It was in this period leading up to the board's first meeting of members elected in November that some board members recruited a friend, Carol Kellam, and rushed her into the district so they could select her at the meeting and be assured they had enough votes to oust Colwell.

On Jan. 12, Ware, Crummy, and Kitchens met with Jackson "regarding their plan to call for a vote to remove Colwell at Monday, January 13, 2003 meeting."

As Colwell's removal was being negotiated, Jackson discussed with board members Clayton County Schools employees they wanted interim Dr. William Chavis to reassign, the documents state.

Jackson informed the board members there could be legal problems with initiating such an action, that board members should make sure those employees "are demoted as defined by state law," and that there could be problems regarding the Fair Dismissal Act.

One of those transferred was former Coordinator of Public Affairs Paul Kraack, who was moved following the ouster of Colwell.

During a February called meeting, Ware accused Colwell of leaking information to the media, specifically referring to various media outlets obtaining videotaped copies of the Jan. 13 meeting.

Following that meeting, Kraack was transferred and videotaping of board meetings was halted.

Kraack currently works as the administrative assistant for the Evening School, the same post held by Chavis prior to his appointment as interim Superintendent in January.

The school board fired Colwell at a Jan. 13 meeting. After Colwell accused the board of acting illegally, they later suspended Colwell with pay pending a hearing that happened.

In a February called meeting, the board and Colwell reached an agreement that included his immediate resignation and a $232,000 buyout for Colwell.

Since Jackson and Sexton sent their initial bill to the school board in late January, the attorneys have received additional bills associated with the services they offered the school board:

bills totaling $1,073 in court reporter costs, $6 courier fee, $65.50 for copies of documents obtained from the Fayette Courthouse to build a case against Colwell, $987 supplemental bill for contract legal services hired to obtain Colwell's divorce documents, and an additional $11,262.50 worth of attorney fees for finalizing Colwell's settlement.

In the Jan. 27 bill, Sexton spent 83 hours at $350 per hour for a total of $29,050. Jackson spent 147 hours at $275 per hour for a total of $40,425. The additional time and costs needed for the settlement documents were 20.5 hours at $275 for Jackson and 15 hours at $375 for Sexton.

The fee arbitration hearing could happen this month, Sexton said Monday.

In a meeting with Jackson attended by Board Chairwoman Nedra Ware, Board Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens, and Board members LaToya Walker and Linda Crummy, Walker told Jackson if he "cared about the kids of Clayton County" he and Sexton "would agree to cap" their "fees at $20,000."

Walker and other board members present at that meeting said they were "catching heat from their constituents" for the attorneys' bill "once it became public," the document states.

The News Daily disclosed the fees after obtaining them through an open records request.

Although Jackson and Sexton made efforts in "diffusing a media mess" against the school board and sparked by Colwell, the attorneys are "now being punished because the board is catching ?heat' for its decision. No good deed with this Board goes unpunished," the attorneys state in the documents.

For a full transcript of the fee arbitration, see pages 10 and 11.

For a full transcript of the time spent on special matters and discussions of those matters, see page 5 of Thursday's edition.