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SACS looms over BOE's vice-chairman election

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Education will have to keep an upcoming investigation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in mind on Monday as board members elect a vice chairman for 2008.

Rod Johnson, the board's vice chairman, and Norreese Haynes, who ran against Johnson for the position last year, are two of the five board members at the center of SACS' ongoing investigation.

The accrediting agency will conduct its on-site portion of the investigation later this month. The agency will look into allegations of micromanagement, ethics violations and misuse of school system funds.

"Whoever emerges as the vice chairman is going to have to quiet down certain voices on the board and mediate issues between board members as they arise," said David Ashe, a board member. "I think everything we do, we need to be cognizant of the situation we're in, how we got here, and what it's going to take to get past this."

The vice-chairman election is set for Jan. 7, at 7 p.m., at the school district's central administration complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro. Board policy mandates the election of a vice chairman at the first meeting of each year. The chairperson is elected every other year. Ericka Davis, the current chairperson, was elected in January 2007.

The vice chairman's primary duties include leading board meetings when the chairperson is absent and offering advice to the chairperson during the agenda-setting process for each board meeting.

"In a general sense, the vice chairman works cooperatively with the chairman of the board," said board member, Eddie White, who was vice chairman in 2005 and 2006. "Basically, they are second-in-command of the board."

The selection process is as follows:

· Davis will call for opening the floor for nominations, which the board has to vote in favor of doing.

· Candidates are nominated by their colleagues on the board.

· The nominated board member can either accept or decline.

· Davis will call for closing the nominations, and the board will vote on the request.

· Board members may discuss the qualifications of each candidate.

· Davis will read the name of a candidate, and all board members in favor of electing that person will cast their votes. She will continue with each candidate until she has gone through the entire list of nominees.

Ashe reiterated his assertion that the board member who fills the post this year needs to work at keeping the peace.

"We need somebody that can work with the various factions on the board, and can make sure we don't have fighting between board members in public," Ashe said. "We need to come across as professional, elected officials, and not the children we are here to serve. I think it wouldn't be wise to elect someone who is going to be antagonistic towards [Davis], or anyone else."

Larry O'Keeffe, a resident of Rex who attends nearly every public meeting of the board, said the vice chairman should take "as neutral a stance as possible" between feuding board members.

In the last few months of 2007, public arguing and name-calling frequently broke out between board members, particularly Johnson and Haynes.

"They [the board members] need to make a choice without a lot of fighting, and be done with it," said Sid Chapman, the president of the Clayton County Education Association (CCEA). "The board [members] need to be careful in anything they do, and with every decision they make right now, because they are under scrutiny by SACS."

White and Ashe said they were not aware of any behind-the-scenes conversations among board members about who would be vice chairman this year. When White was asked if he would accept a nomination to serve a third term in the position, he said, "As of this time, I am not seeking the office."

Davis, Johnson and Haynes could not be reached for comment.