By Curt Yeomans
A former chairman of the Clayton County Board of Education testified before a state administrative judge on Wednesday that the board went behind closed doors earlier this year and took at least one informal vote about hiring a corrective superintendent.
Former board member Eddie White spent three hours on the witness stand during the second day of a state hearing designed to determine whether board members committed malfeasance.
White testified about several events which took place during closed board meetings. During an April 23 meeting, according to White, the board voted 5-1 -- in an informal tally -- to hire John Thompson as the district's corrective superintendent, with White being the lone dissenter in the group.
"No official vote was taken," he said. "There was discussion regarding Dr. Thompson, things in his contract, and the feelings of individuals were discussed ... One would say that informally, it was understood how individuals would vote."
White said that, under state law, the only formal votes the board is allowed to take behind closed doors involve student and teacher tribunals. All other formal votes must take place in open session.
In June, Jonesboro attorneys Albert Wallace, Robert Oliver, George Glaze, George Brown, and retired teacher, Dyane Simmons, sent Gov. Sonny Perdue a complaint against several present, and former school board members, asking that they be investigated for possible malfeasance in office, because of alleged conduct that has led the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to threaten to revoke the Clayton School System's accreditation. Michelle Strong, Sandra Scott, Lois Baines-Hunter and Yolanda Everett are the only board members listed in the complaint who are still on the board.
Perdue forwarded the complaint to the Office of State Administrative Hearings, where Judge Michael Malihi is presiding over the case. Malihi could recommend that Perdue remove Strong, Scott, Baines-Hunter and Everett from office.
Julie Lewis, one of the attorneys for the school board members, argued that it is not out of place for the board to take an informal vote about a potential superintendent before taking a formal vote in open session.
"The board is deciding who is going to be running the school system," Lewis said. "That is one of the most important decisions a Board of Education makes."
White also testified about an argument he had with board member Sandra Scott during that same executive session. Scott allegedly distributed information she found on an internet blog during a closed session to discuss the superintendent position. The information revolved around an alleged improper relationship between White and then-Interim Superintendent Gloria Duncan.
White called for the executive session to discuss the corrective superintendent position, and noticed a piece of paper, which had been left on his desk. He said Scott was handing other board members copies of a piece of paper with the information from the blog. "In general terms, it accused me of having a relationship with the interim superintendent, in terms of jobs being performed or something of that nature," White said. "I asked if she [Scott] knew it to be true, and she said, 'well, some of it is true.'"
White said infighting among board members was a common occurrence in executive sessions. Often, the fighting involved Scott and former board member, Rod Johnson. Without getting into details, the former chairperson said personal attacks and name calling often took place in meetings which were held behind closed doors.
He testified that board member Lois Baines-Hunter once used "language that I felt was inappropriate" while addressing an attorney in an executive session. Similar behavior sometimes spilled into open meetings of the board throughout 2007, and in early 2008.
"I can't give an exact number [about the frequency of the infighting], but it was quite often," White said. "My concern was that we needed to be professionals."
Other witnesses who testified on Wednesday included Randy Reece, who acted as a human resources consultant for the school system earlier this year; Geoff Fulton, chairman of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; Larry O'Keeffe, president of the Morrow High School council, and Mary Baker, who recently won the Democratic primary run-off to represent District 6 on the board.
The two days set aside for the hearings ran through without attorneys for the board members having a chance to present their own witnesses. Attorneys for both sides will hold a conference call today, at 10 a.m., to discuss availability for at least another two days of testimony.
Lewis and attorney Rodney Moore said they will call as witnesses on behalf of the board: Strong, Scott, Baines-Hunter, Everett, Derrick Manning, assistant superintendent of high schools, Patricia Hill, principal of Morrow High School, and Rose Marie Green, a resident of Jonesboro, who regularly attends board meetings.
They will put the in-fighting and public outbursts in perspective by explaining "what was going on in the district at the time," Lewis said.
Lewis also said she and Moore are attempting to subpoena Gov. Perdue to testify on behalf of the board members, but the state attorney general's office has filed a motion to quash the subpoena.