By Curt Yeomans
Dorsey Hopson, legal counsel for the Clayton County School System, told the board of education on Monday it should wait to see what a Clayton County Superior Court judge decides to do with an injunction request filed by a former board member before taking a vote to bring the board member back.
The board voted 5-3-1 on March 3 to declare former board member Norreese Haynes' seat vacant, because a Clayton County police investigation determined he did not live in the county. Investigators concluded he lived at an apartment in Marietta.
A recently concluded investigation conducted by Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel's office, however, determined Haynes lived in his district.
"I recommend the board let the courts decide this," Hopson told board members during their monthly business meeting. "You don't want a situation where the board goes one way, and the courts go another way ... If the board reverses its decision on Mr. Haynes, and a judge then decides he isn't eligible to sit on the board, it could call any vote taken between now and then into question."
Haynes has filed a request for an injunction, which would stop a July 15 special election to replace him. A May 5 hearing has been set to decide whether the injunction should be granted.
Board members insist they only voted to declare Haynes' seat vacant because of information provided to them last month by Clayton County Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, who had ordered the police to investigate the residential status of each board member.
The secretary of state's investigator reviewed the interviews conducted by the police, but determined a key witness -- who told police Haynes never lived at the Morrow address he used when he was elected in 2006 -- could not be treated as a credible witness because she kept changing her story.
Other interviews conducted by the state investigator, and evidence reviewed during the course of that investigation, led to the determination that Haynes lived in his district.
Because Secretary of State Handel released the report clearing Haynes on April 10, Hopson's recommendation caused some discontent among members of the board. Some of them wanted a more detailed explanation of Hopson's recommendation.
"Is there a local law which deals with residency?" board member Lois Baines-Hunter asked Hopson. "I would like to see a local law which defines residency, and not just have somebody wake up one day and say 'You don't live in this county.' "
It also angered a few members of the audience, including John Trotter, president of the Metro Association of Classroom Educator (MACE). Haynes is the organization's executive director.
"If the board put Norreese back in his seat, the legal matter would be dropped," Trotter told a Clayton News Daily reporter in the lobby of the Central Administration Complex a few minutes after Hopson gave his recommendation. "Norreese Haynes has been declared a resident of this county by the secretary of state, who is the authority in this matter.
"This is disingenuous political sophistry. They are determined to keep Norreese off this board."
As Trotter was talking, Hopson approached the union leader. The two men got in each other's face and traded insults. Trotter questioned the validity of Hopson's contract with the school board, and Hopson, questioned whether Trotter, who has a law degree, was able to pass the state bar exam.
"You should be ashamed to call yourself a lawyer," Trotter said.
"I can't wait to leave this school system and get away from you," Hopson replied, referring to his decision to accept a job as the general counsel for Memphis, Tenn. Schools.
A Jonesboro police officer, who was standing outside the building, broke up the altercation when he banged on a window and pointed at both men.
Earlier in the day, Anderson Ramay, who is Haynes' attorney and general counsel for MACE, told the Clayton News Daily he believes the secretary of state's residency report will help his client's case.
"It's pretty good evidence that he is a resident of the county," Ramay said. "The secretary of state's office is responsible for determining whether or not someone is eligible to hold public office, so I think it will carry a lot of weight when we go before a judge [on May 5] ... They [the board] basically made a determination about his residency status, and removed him from the board, without letting him defend himself.
"They never gave him an opportunity to give his side of the story... It was pretty egregious in the way it was done, with him being escorted off the stage by the police in front of a large crowd of people."
Ramay is still optimistic a judge won't have to make a decision about whether Haynes should be on the board, though. "We hope they [board members] decide to put him back on the board, especially in light of the secretary of state saying he is a resident of the county," Ramay said.
Haynes' attorney said there could still be monetary damages sought by his client, but would not elaborate. "I don't think they did this the right way," Ramay said.
In other action, the board voted 6-0-1 to make board member Eddie White the new chairman. He replaces former chairperson, Ericka Davis, whose resignation was formerly accepted by the board earlier in the meeting. A July 15 special election will determine a replacement for Davis.
Board members White, Baines-Hunter, David Ashe, Yolanda Everett, Rod Johnson, and Michelle Strong voted in favor of White. Board member Sandra Scott abstained from the vote. The board also opened the floor to elect a new vice chairman, since White previously held that position. No one was nominated, however, and the board continued its meeting without a vice chairman.
The board also met with Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) President Mark Elgart, state liaisons James Bostic and Brad Bryant, and attorneys Ken Bergman and Glenn Brock during a nearly two-hour executive session before the meeting began.