By Curt Yeomans
The Clayton County Board of Education almost got through its work session on Monday, peaceably.
The session came to a stormy end with Rod Johnson, the board's vice chairman, verbally sparring with fellow board member, Norreese Haynes -- not once, but twice -- amid various accusations, hurled in anger.
In recent months, Haynes has repeatedly accused Johnson of micromanaging, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering for control of the school district.
The verbal confrontation between the two men marks the second time in less than a month they have argued at a public meeting. The first time was on Oct. 1, when Johnson defended the hiring of in-house legal counsel, Dorsey Hopson. Haynes was critical of the hiring. The board had voted 7-2 in August to hire Hopson. Haynes and board member Sandra Scott cast the dissenting votes.
After announcing his formal support for Hopson, Johnson added comments he directed toward Haynes, saying, "if you can't say anything intelligent or intellectual, then let us get on with our meeting."
Monday's argument came while Hopson was asking the board to consider a resolution to immediately terminate law firm Greenberg Traurig's services to the school system. The firm also would be banned from providing supplemental services for at least one year.
Haynes took issue with some of the language in the Hopson resolution.
"I agree with you, when you say Greenberg Traurig has to go, but I have a problem with something else you said," Haynes told Hopson. "You are throwing us for a loop when you say we voted for you. I have a problem with that. If I approve this version of your resolution, I'd be lying to the people I represent."
Haynes accused Hopson of adding sections, pertaining to benefits, to his own contract. The board didn't know about these changes, according to Haynes. Hopson denied the allegations, and pointed out that his contract had been signed by Davis.
Haynes countered by saying Davis "isn't the board." Then, Davis spoke up: "I don't sign a contract without the authority of the board."
Haynes interrupted her, adding: "You didn't have the authority of the board. First of all, I think you and Rod are both control freaks, for the record."
Haynes was then interrupted by Johnson: "Stop it now. You should be professional. You're just grandstanding for the sake of grandstanding. You're just shouting for the sake of shouting."
The two board members then drowned each other out with their shouting. The shouting was so loud and so hostile, it was impossible to understand what either was saying. Davis began banging her gavel repeatedly in an attempt to stop the bickering.
"We don't allow children to call each other names," Davis said.
"We're adults," Haynes said, as he cut Davis off.
"You don't act like it," chimed someone in the audience.
Davis then added, "As adults, we shouldn't call each other names, either."
Davis' attempt at restoring order didn't last long.
Hopson moved on to his second item and asked the board to pick the Jonesboro-based law firm of Fincher, Denmark and Williams, LLC, from a list of law firms who responded to a Request for Qualifications (RFQ).
Haynes then took exception to the request to choose Fincher, Denmark and Williams, and he accused Johnson of plotting to get the firm hired by the board. "I got a tip last week, while I was out of town, that Fincher, Denmark and Williams, was going to be recommended to offer supplemental services," Haynes exclaimed. "Rod Johnson met with them last week and ... "
"That's a lie," Johnson shouted before Haynes could finish his sentence. "You continue to fabricate stories about me that are untrue ... "
When the arguing renewed, Davis dropped her head into her left hand and attempted to regain order with her gavel. When she couldn't stop the arguing, Davis slammed the gavel down and called for a motion to adjourn the meeting. There was no apparent motion to adjourn, though, or a vote to do so. Board members, and the audience, just began walking out of the room.
Johnson, Haynes and Board Chairperson Ericka Davis could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
A history of competition
Haynes and Johnson have a history of head-to-head encounters. Johnson gained one more vote than Haynes in the July 20, 2004, primary election for the District 5 seat on the board. Johnson, not Haynes, then faced Barbara Wells in an Aug. 10, 2004 run-off, which Johnson won in a landslide.
However, Haynes won a seat on the board two years later by defeating incumbent Allen T. Johnson for the District 8 seat.
At the Jan. 9, 2007, board meeting Haynes found himself facing Johnson for the board's vice-chairmanship. Johnson won the position by a 5-3-1 vote. Johnson and Haynes did not publicly fight during the early half of the year.
During the spring, Johnson was supportive of Haynes' Teachers Bill of Rights. Johnson also was supportive of a similar proposal being pushed by the Clayton County Education Association. The CCEA proposal needed a board member to introduce it to the Student Achievement and Support Services committee.
The tensions between Haynes and Johnson did not surface publicly until August, when Haynes began accusing Johnson of telling interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan which people should serve in systemwide positions.
Haynes also accused Johnson of hand-picking the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, LLC, to investigate a controversial land deal of 2006, because of alleged friendships between Johnson and the firm.
Haynes told the Clayton News Daily rcently that Johnson was also, allegedly, behind the hiring of Ken Alexander -- a former police officer who is under investigation on child molestation charges -- as a bodyguard and driver for Duncan.
During Monday's heated meeting, board member Scott pleaded with her fellow members to put their differences behind them, and let the entire board work together to improve education in Clayton County. Scott also has been critical of Johnson, but not as often as Haynes.
Scott recently told the Clayton News Daily that "Rod thinks he's the board." On Monday, however, her message to the board was one of healing, and working together.
"I think this board is going downhill," Scott said. "There are some evil and vindictive things going on with this board. I don't think any of us live in a glass house, but if you do, remember glass breaks, and sometimes, it comes down in large pieces. Some of you are planting seeds you don't want to plant, but you are planting them anyway.
"You need to search your souls, and your hearts, tonight. This board is going to [hurt] the children, because there are some evil and vindictive things going on."