School board cleared in SPLOST promotion

By Michael Davis

DOUGLASVILLE ? The State Ethics Commission Monday found no reason to hold a hearing on charges the Clayton County Board of Education improperly supported an item on a local referendum last year.

It did, however, find that some top former administrators may have violated the Ethics in Government Act by allowing a brochure supporting the special purpose local option sales tax to be placed within the county's schools. And that the county, through its Web site, may have also violated the act by promoting the SPLOST.

The penny increase was approved by voters and has been in effect for all of 2004.

On Aug. 18, Mark Mosely filed complaints with the State Ethics Commission against both the Clayton County Board of Education and Lou Hisel, at the time the co-chairman of the Recreations and Roads 2003 Committee, a pro-SPLOST campaign organization. Mosely alleged they violated the ethics act by improperly promoting the one-cent sales tax using a government facility. "We would like to end this kind of misuse of these tax-supported public facilities for political agendas," Mosely said.

On Aug. 6, 7, 8 and 9 of last year, Mosely says that brochures with a pro-SPLOST theme were handed out at some Clayton County schools.

Hisel said he had the approval of Chavis and Horton to deliver the brochures, but that he did not "distribute" them to individuals. "We received permission to take them to the PTA so they could be distributed," he said.

A PTA is a private organization.

But the school system's attorney, Gary Sams, said the brochure was never brought to the board for approval or denial, a violation of the board's procedures, and that when they found out it had been distributed, had the remaining brochures destroyed.

"The charge is against the Board of Education and I suggest that at no time, was this matter submitted at a regular meeting," Sams said, adding, "There is no evidence that board of education had any knowledge it was being done."

The Ethics Commission moved to name Chavis and Horton to the complaint and remove the school board before going forward with a formal hearing.

The Ethics Commissions executive secretary Teddy Lee also suggested that the commission name the Clayton County government in a complaint, alleging that county promoted the referendum on its Web site with a message saying, "We hope that you have been provided with enough information here to vote yes on SPLOST."

"We think that kind of advocacy ? provides reasonable grounds to believe the Clayton County government violated the Ethics in Government Act," Lee said.

Lee later said that all parties involved, Chavis, Horton and the Clayton County government, will be notified of the complaints against them and have an opportunity to respond.

They have the right to a hearing before the Ethics Commission under the Administrative Procedures Act, to determine if a violation has taken place.

Lee said that each violation of the Ethics in Government Act carries a penalty of up to $1,000.

Neither Horton nor Chavis were required to be at Monday's preliminary hearing, but Horton later denied any wrong-doing. Chavis did not immediately return phone-calls.

Chavis has since retired from the school system and Horton is now principal of East Clayton Elementary School.