Talk of recall continues

By Trina Trice

Fuming Clayton County residents, fed up with recent actions by Clayton County Board of Education Chairwoman Nedra Ware and Vice Chairwoman Connie Kitchens, could mobilize a recall effort of the members.

Since the ousting of former Superintendent Dan Colwell earlier this year, Clayton County parents and taxpayers have expressed anger at the board.

Citizens have blamed the board for irresponsible spending on lawyers, and most recently for causing the school system to be placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an organization responsible for accrediting schools and universities throughout the Southeast.

The Clayton County Probate Court has been flooded with inquiries from local residents who have wanted to learn more about their ability to recall elected officials.

Local citizen group, the Clayton County Coalition for Quality Education, has also been inundated by residents who want more information about possibly recalling board members, said Tom McBrayer, a member of CCCQE.

About any official recall effort, McBrayer said there has been "lots of talk and lots of questions, but I know of no formal act yet. CCCQE can't officially lead a recall because I believe it would jeopardize our non-profit status. However, that does not prevent any and all members to participate in such an effort."

State law only allows a recall process to start after an official has served six months of their term. This would mean it would be early July new board members took office in January.

At Tuesday night's school board meeting that drew more than 100 residents, most were sporting stickers that said "Resign or Recall."

They were also holding signs that expressed their displeasure at the performance of Ware. One speaker urged Ware and Kitchens to resign. They didn't acknowledge this statement.

A recall effort would start with the county's Probate Court which handles most issues concerning elections.

Clayton County Probate Judge Eugene Lawson prepared a recall information packet that informs residents about the process.

"We've been issuing the preliminary application for the recall," Lawson said.

Included in the packet is a memorandum Lawson wrote addressing the complexity of recalling this year's school board due to the new school district map that went into effect Jan. 1.

Lawson wrote, "The only absolutely, without question, constituency for the purpose of participating in the recall application for a petition and the subsequent petition would be those who were eligible to vote for the school board member at the time of his/her election and who now reside and are eligible to vote in the new district."

Grounds for recall include an elected official acting in a manner that adversely affects both the administration of that official's office and the rights and interests of the public.

In addition, the official must have engaged in misconduct while in office, violated the oath of office, failed to perform the duties prescribed by law, or have willfully misused or misappropriated public funds or property entrusted to their office.

State law outlines a process for organizing a recall vote, which starts with a two-step petition process. First, residents must apply with the Probate Court to circulate a recall petition. That application must include the signatures of 100 sponsors who live and are registered to vote within the district up for recall.

Within four business days of the application, the official potentially up for recall can request that a superior court judge review the grounds for recall to determine the validity of the charges.

If the signatures are verified by the county Voting Registrar and the court rules the petition may move forward, the sponsors of the petition then have a specific period of time to get the required number of signatures for the recall petition. In the case of officials elected to represent districts, signatures from 30 percent of the registered voters within that district are required for the petition.

For example, if a resident of school board District 2 wanted to recall Ware, of the 14,349 registered voters in that district, 4,305 must sign.

For petitions requiring less than 5,000 signatures, sponsors have only 30 days to circulate the petition.

If more than 5,000 signatures are required n which in the school board's case would only apply to District 1 n the sponsors have 45 days to circulate the petition.

If the Voting Registrar verifies the required number of signatures and Judge Lawson certifies the petition, then a recall election must be held within 30 to 45 days. On that ballot, voters would be asked if the official should be removed from office, with a simple majority required for approval. If the official is removed from office, then state law requires a special election be held to fill that office.

Justin Reedy and Bob Paslay contributed to this article.