Schools to pay $53,102

By Bob Paslay

The ouster of former Superintendent Dan Colwell will cost the Clayton County Board of Education $53,102.

An arbitration board of the Georgia Bar Association decided that the Clayton County School Board must pay a substantial portion of a bill submitted by two attorneys for their help in ousting Colwell and negotiating his departure.

The bill shows that the school board has been ordered to pay $53,102 of the $83,843.50 submitted by attorneys Terry Jackson and Lee Sexton. The total includes $50,000 in fees and $3,102

in out of pocket expenses. A hearing on the matter was held May 30.

Sexton said he and Jackson have sent a letter to the board stating that if the bill is not paid within 30 days, action will be taken to convert the bill to a judgment, forcing school officials to pay additional attorney fees for handling this action. In addition, Sexton said there is a method to levy against school property or school funds if the fee is not paid.

"It is time to pay their just debts that they owe and to get on with educating the children of the county," Sexton said.

Jackson would not comment.

The decision to pay the bill was made during an executive session meeting Tuesday evening, a move David Hudson, attorney for the Georgia Press Association and the News Daily, says is illegal.

"It violates open meetings law for the school board to vote in closed session to expend these public funds," Hudson said. "There is no exception in the law that allows such an expenditure to be approved in a secret meeting."

School Board attorney Gary Sams disagrees.

"Any issues involving contested attorney fees is a legal issue and therefore is appropriate to be discussed and voted on in executive session," said Sams. "My understanding is that there will be no appeal of the award and so I assume the bill will be paid."

Board member Barbara Wells confirmed Wednesday that the board voted unanimously in executive session to pay the bill. But she said board members believe they do not have to vote in open session on legal matters. She said "there haven't been many but we have done this in the past."

The money came into dispute after Board Chairwoman Nedra Ware and Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens hired the attorneys in their effort to oust Colwell.

Later the school board balked at paying the fees with Ware and Kitchens saying they did not believe the bill was reasonable. In an effort to resolve the matter it was put before the State Bar of Georgia arbitration committee.