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Former BOE chair asks DA to investigate board member

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Former Clayton County Board of Education Chairman Eddie White has grown tired of waiting for current board members to take action against member, Sandra Scott, for distributing a "vile, derogatory and defamatory" letter about him, so he is pursuing other channels in hopes of punishing his former colleague.

He has sent his complaint against Sandra Scott to Clayton County District Attorney Jewel Scott (no relation) and the State Ethics Commission, accusing Sandra Scott of malfeasance..

"My request to address this issue in an official meeting of the board and to address the issue in a public meeting has been ignored," White wrote in his letters. "Failure of the board to address this issue is another example of the school system's inability to police themselves and operate with a high degree of integrity."

During an executive session on April 23, board member Scott distributed copies of information she obtained from an Internet blog, alleging an improper relationship between White and a school system employee. She told her colleagues last month she took the action because she felt it was information they needed to know to protect the board.

White resigned on April 28, partly because of the incident, and he asked the board two weeks later to issue sanctions against his former colleague.

The board discussed White's initial request for sanctions on May 13, and decided to table the issue until its next meeting. Two meetings have passed since then, and the board has not yet publicly addressed the issue.

White is now seeking help from higher authorities.

According to the dates on the letters, White sent his request to District Attorney Scott on Thursday, and to the State Ethics Commission on Friday. He also e-mailed copies of the letters to Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) President Mark Elgart, and members of media.

Ethics was one of SACS' major concerns about the board when the accrediting agency set a Sept. 1 deadline for it to meet nine mandates for improving the school system, or face a loss of accreditation.

Kali Schlieder, personal assistant to State Ethics Commission Executive Secretary Rick Thompson, said White's letter was not in the commission's filing system on Friday. She added it may not have shown up yet, because the agency may still be processing the request. District Attorney Scott said White did speak with an investigator from her office on Thursday.

On its own, the district attorney's office has been looking in to whether school board members committed malfeasance, based on SACS' allegations of ethical breaches, and its characterization of the board, in February, as "dysfunctional."

Prosecutors received more than 2,000 documents from SACS officials, and they will present a report on their findings to a grand jury on June 11. Investigators went to the grand jury with the evidence late in the February term, but the jurors were turned off by the number of documents presented to them.

"It was very voluminous," said Jewel Scott. "The volume of what we had frightened the grand jury, and they said 'Oh, we don't want to deal with all of that.' So, we took it upon ourselves to review all of the documents and prepare a report for the present grand jury."

The grand jury can indict an elected official on a misdemeanor charge if he or she is found to have committed malfeasance, which is when the official is deemed to not be performing his or her duties, or is found to be incompetent. If the official is convicted, state law mandates the punishment is removal from office.

Board Chairperson Michelle Strong initially said the board had an "obligation to police itself," when the White issue was brought up on May 13, but she has repeatedly declined to answer questions about when the issue will be taken up again since then.

On June 2, she told the Clayton News Daily there was a reason why it was not on the agenda for that evening's board meeting, but she would not explain the reason.

Strong said on Friday the issue will be placed on a "future agenda" and added, "I am not obligated to explain why something is not on the agenda. If it was not on [the agenda], there was a reason. It will be addressed by the [board] in the near future."

Sandra Scott defended her actions Friday by noting it was White, not she, who made the letter a public issue. "I felt -- and still feel today -- the board needs to be informed when there are issues involving students, teachers, administrators or board members out there," she said.

"I took it in executive session, because it was a personnel issue and that's where you deal with personnel issues. Sandra Scott did not take this to the world. It was Eddie White who took it to the world. He broke the rules of executive session when he took the letter to the media."