By Curt Yeomans
Throughout direct examination of five Jonesboro residents during the final day of a state administrative hearing on Wednesday, an attorney for four Clayton County Board of Education members introduced a recurring theme that a complaint against his clients may have been the result of prejudice.
Rodney Moore questioned attorneys Albert Wallace, George Brown, Robert Oliver and George Glaze, and retired math teacher Dyane Simmons, on the stand during the administrative hearing in Atlanta, about their reasons for going to Gov. Sonny Perdue with allegations of malfeasance by the board members.
Moore represents board members Michelle Strong, Sandra Scott, Lois Baines-Hunter and Yolanda Everett. Moore argued that the board members may have been targeted because they are black, and the petitioners are white.
"I'm not saying they're racists," he said, after the hearing ended. "Often times, we have internal prejudices that we're not aware of. I believe they think they are doing the right thing ... but the Georgia they came from, is different from the Georgia we currently live in."
In July, Perdue sent the complaint he received against the board members to the Office of State Administrative Hearings. OSAH Deputy Chief Judge Michael Malihi could recommend that Perdue remove the board members from office, if he finds that they have broken state or local laws or are guilty of malfeasance.
Moore conducted direct examination of each petitioner on Wednesday. He repeatedly asked questions about race, and then retreated from the subject, only to come back to it later on.
Occasionally, Moore asked petitioners pointed questions about race. When Wallace said he was a member of the U.S. Army during World War II, Moore asked if he served in a segregated military, even though no branch of the U.S. military was desegregated before 1948.
Later, when Wallace said the board members would have been charged with malfeasance "if Jewel Scott wasn't the DA," Moore asked if Wallace worked to make sure she was defeated by Tracy Graham-Lawson, who is white, in the Aug. 5 run-off election because the Scott is black.
"We haven't had a DA for the last three and a half years," Wallace responded.
"So, you haven't had a school board since all of these black people have been on the board?" asked Moore.
"I didn't know if the people on the board were white or black," Wallace said.
When Brown said he had represented former Superintendent Dan Colwell, when he was fired by the board in 2003, Moore asked if race had been an argument used by Brown to support Colwell's claim of being unjustly fired. Brown said he did not remember what arguments were used.
"Didn't you see this as an opportunity to get revenge on the Clayton County Board of Education?" Moore asked.
'You just impugned my integrity by asking that question of me," responded Brown, who never answered the question.
When Moore continued to ask questions of Brown which dealt with race, the petitioner asked his questioner: "Are you saying I'm guilty of something?" This led Moore to break off his line of questioning about Colwell and race.
As Moore questioned each petitioner, the tension built until he eventually separated the two sides along racial lines.
"When I look at the table, I see five white petitioners against four black board members,' said Moore during direct examination of Oliver.
"You forget one thing, Mr. Moore," Oliver responded. "We sought to remove David Ashe and he is a Caucasian ... If we had picked racially, he would not have been named."
Ashe was named in the complaint that was sent to Perdue, but he was dropped when he resigned from office on July 16.
Moore asked Glaze if he knew of any white elected officials who were removed from office by a governor of Georgia. The petitioner said he did not know the race of anyone who has ever been removed.
Former Gov. Roy Barnes removed Oscar Stokes, Jr., an African-American member of the Griffin-Spalding school board, in 1999. He remains the only elected official removed from office by a governor, according to Moore.
Simmons was the only petitioner who was not asked about possible racial motivations. "I wish they had asked me those questions, because I would have told them I taught children of many different ethnicities," said Simmons, who taught in Clayton County elementary and middle schools for 27 years, until she retired in 2003. "I taught the child, not the skin color."
Earlier in the day, Morrow High School Principal Patricia Hill testified that board member Sandra Scott did not exert influence in the principal's decision to fire former football coach, Kennedy Holt, in February 2007.
Hill said she wanted to see the football team head in another direction, and that she fired Holt for that reason. "I looked at the organization and structure of the program, the weight program, and players getting to practice on time," Hill said.
Both sides in the case have until Aug. 26, at 8 p.m., to file briefs of their arguments why Malihi should, or should not, remove the board members. He is expected to make a decision shortly thereafter.