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Pulliam to cooperate in ethics probe

By Bob Paslay and Greg Gelpi

Soon after being made superintendent in Clayton County, Barbara Pulliam moved out several key administrators and appointed her own people to key positions.

That move prompted a complaint to a state ethics commission and Pulliam on Monday said she plans to cooperate in the investigation.

"In a letter dated April 22, 2004, I was notified that an ethics complaint against me had been filed with the Educator Ethics Division of the Professional Standards Commission. The complaint states that I "allegedly failed to announce in writing the availability of certified positions as required by OCGA 20-2-211(d) and other laws, policies and procedures," Pulliam said.

"In response to the complaint, I intend to fully cooperate with the investigation of this situation and provide the commission with all information that has been requested. I am confident that the commission will find that we acted appropriately in the hiring of these positions."

Pulliam said the process of allowing a citizen to file a complaint is "a proper and necessary right which helps maintain the educational standards of this state."

But she said, "However, the time that is needed to respond to such complaints takes away from other important business of the school district. It is my hope that this issue can be concluded as quickly as possible."

Education advocate John Trotter said in March he filed the ethics complaint against Pulliam.

According to the complaint prepared by Trotter, Pulliam breached the Code of Ethics for Educators by hiring three senior administrators and denying former interim Deputy Superintendent Bill Horton an opportunity to complain in accordance with grievance laws.

Horton filed a grievance with Pulliam after she transferred him from being interim deputy superintendent to being principal of East Clayton Elementary School.

Horton alleged that he never received an increase in pay from principal to deputy superintendent during the 13 months he served the system in that capacity. He asked for the difference in pay, about $6,600.

A letter sent to Horton from school system attorney Gary Sams on behalf of Pulliam denied Horton's complaint, saying it wasn't grievable.

Despite this, senior administrators urged the Clayton County Board of Education to pay Horton and settle the grievance.

At the Feb. 20, 2003, school board meeting, the board approved rescinding Horton's resignation and made him interim deputy superintendent. At the same meeting, the board approved raising interim Superintendent William Chavis' salary to $118,000 while he served as interim superintendent. No change in salary was voted on for Horton.

Horton said he agreed not to accept a pay increase until the new fiscal year, but there was no increase in the new fiscal year.

Sams denied Horton's ability to grieve in a letter, adding that the laws cited in his grievance apply to the Georgia General Assembly, not to school boards, and that his contract is between himself and the board and not himself and Pulliam.

"Hence, your complaint is rejected and will not be considered in the grievance process," Sams stated to Horton.

Trotter, though, wrote in his complaint that the offense is grievable and can't be dismissed without following procedures set forth by the state for grievances. Trotter, who is in law school, is representing Horton as a friend in the grievance proceedings. Anyone can serve as a representative in a grievance complaint.

"The attorney cannot arrogate himself to the position of a judge and then make a ruling on the pleading," Trotter said in the complaint. "The statute does not provide for this. To the contrary, the statute does state that ?the complainant shall be entitled to an opportunity to be heard, to present relevant evidence and to examine witnesses at each level.'"

Trotter also said Pulliam's naming of three senior administrators at a meeting in March violated the Code of Ethics for Educators.

"The superintendent is not above the law," Trotter said. "She must follow Georgia law."

Pulliam "restructured" the school system and hired three senior administrators without advertising the positions. The administrative rule for personnel hiring was changed March 1.

The amended administrative rule allows for "direct appointment" by the superintendent.

"The posting of non-school administrative vacancies and the committee's review/interview may be waived by the Superintendent when the Superintendent determines that circumstances warrant the direct appointment of a candidate known by the Superintendent to possess the required training, experience and ability," the rule states. "The Superintendent will recommend to the Board the person to be appointed to the position and the circumstances for the direct appointment."

Although Pulliam didn't explain the appointments during the meeting, she did issue a press release on the matter the next day.

"The focus of our district is placed clearly on improving student success," Pulliam said in a press release of her personnel changes. "These changes in organizational structure will help me to best focus the energy of district administrators in a way that will provide the greatest benefit to schools."

She outlined her plans for the coming months and developed six initial goals for the school system. One of those is to "align human and financial resources with instructional goals."