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BOE member calling for investigations of colleagues

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Relationships among members of the Clayton County Board of Education continue to disintegrate, with various members pointing accusatory fingers at one another.

Rod Johnson, the vice chairman of the board, spent the week following his public sparring with fellow board member, Norreese Haynes, by seeking investigations of Haynes and two other members of the board.

Johnson asked Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker to investigate Haynes for allegedly interfering with the selection process for an alternative education provider for the school system.

The request was declined, but Johnson has also asked the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to investigate allegations that board member, Sandra Scott, pressured the school system to have a teacher at Morrow High School fired.

In addition, Johnson asked Clayton County elections officials to look into whether another board member, Lois Baines-Hunter, is actually living in Clayton County, as is required by law.

"These are tremendous, tremendous issues violating basic human rights," Johnson said during a point of privilege at Monday's school board meeting.

The requests for investigations are the latest chapter in an ongoing saga between Johnson and his critics on the Board of Education. Johnson has been accused of improprieties in recent months, including allegations that he has micromanaged school system operations in violation of SACS standards. Those accusations have already led to public arguments with Haynes on two occasions.

Johnson's request for an investigation of Haynes included accusations that Haynes attempted to pressure Lonita Collier, the school system's director of purchasing, during a pre-bid conference for an alternative education contract, to make the contract for more than one year. Johnson alleges that Haynes was acting on behalf of Community Education Partners (CEP), one of the companies that responded to the bid request.

Another allegation made by Johnson is that Haynes tried to pressure Collier to guarantee at least 500 students would attend the school, which CEP allegedly wanted.

"This put the board in a bad situation, and it also unfairly placed pressure on a member of the staff," Johnson said in his Oct. 31 letter to Baker. "Mr. Haynes' attendance and directives constitute micromanaging," he said.

Deputy Attorney General Dennis Dunn sent a reply to Johnson on Nov. 2, informing him "the attorney general's office provides legal counsel and advice to our clients within state government. We cannot provide these services to private individuals, or to local political subdivisions of the state, such as boards of education."

Dunn recommended that Johnson consult with school system legal counsel, Dorsey Hopson, before proceeding with his requests for an investigation.

Haynes responded to the allegations during Monday's board meeting by reading a prepared statement. In the statement, he accused Johnson of seeking the investigation in retaliation for his repeatedly criticizing the $10.2 million purchase of land in Riverdale in 2006; accusing Hopson of unethical behavior concerning his own contract negotiations, and accusing Johnson of micromanaging the school system and hiring a former Jonesboro police officer, who is under investigation for allegations of child molestation, to be a bodyguard for Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan.

"This [Johnson's accusation] is a bold-faced lie, which I suspect, germinated in the mind of my gentleman-colleague," Haynes said.

Johnson publicly responded to the accusations made by Haynes by calling them, "lies," during an Oct. 29, board work session. He also is charging that Scott, another member of the board, attempted to intimidate a Morrow High School teacher.

Scott, like Haynes, has criticized Johnson for alleged micromanagement of the school system and for allegedly being involved in the hiring of the body guard.

A packet provided to the media on Johnson's behalf included a letter, allegedly from former Morrow High School football coach, Kennedy Holt, saying Scott pressured former superintendent, Barbara Pulliam, and members of the board, to have Holt fired, because Scott didn't believe he did enough to help her son, Dexter.

During Monday's meeting, Johnson said he is asking SACS' Council on Accreditation, and School Improvement (CASI) to investigate Scott's alleged behavior.

Scott responded by saying she had called for a coaching change at Morrow High School before she joined the board this year, but denied allegations that she pressured anyone to have Holt fired.

"He [Johnson] has crossed the line with my family," Scott said. "I have not crossed the line with him or his family. I welcome any investigation into my behavior."

Other documents in the packet included a letter sent to Annie Bright, Clayton County's elections director, and Eldrin Bell, chairman of the Clayton County Commission. In the letter, Johnson asks Bright, Bell and other local officials, including Ericka Davis, the chairperson of the Board of Education, to investigate whether Baines-Hunter actually lives in Clayton County.

"It is incumbent upon Ms. Baines-Hunter to resign her school board position, or verify her address immediately," Johnson says in the letter.

Baines-Hunter, however, insisted that she does live at the Jonesboro address in question, and pulled out her driver's license and showed it to a member of the media. The address on the driver's license was the same one Johnson is asking county officials to investigate. Baines-Hunter said she is not concerned about any possible investigation, because she does live at the address on her driver's license.

"I think they are upset with me, because I asked [SACS president, Mark Elgart, who attended a board meeting in September] why is he here," Baines-Hunter said. "I confronted him at that board meeting."