By Curt Yeomans
Despite being ousted from his seat on the Clayton County Board of Education by his colleagues on Monday, board member Norreese Haynes plans on sitting with the other members of the board at the March 24 work session.
The District 8 representative said he was not "surprised, or shocked," by his ouster. With the help of his lawyers, Haynes said he plans to launch a court battle to keep his seat. He said he will go all the way to a federal court, if necessary.
He plans to get an injunction to remain on the board throughout the legal proceedings.
"I would tell them [fellow board members who voted him off,] that was a mistake," Haynes said. "There's a consequence when they do stuff like that. They will suffer a consequence for their illegal action."
A court fight with Haynes threatens to tie up board members and their lawyers for months, at a time when the board is trying to address nine recommendations from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to keep its accreditation. The board faces a Sept. 1 deadline.
Investigating the residency of board members, and removing those who don't live in the districts to which they are elected, is one task facing the board.
A Clayton County Police investigation has concluded Haynes lived in Cobb County, despite his use of a Morrow Address when he ran for his seat in 2006. Even though Haynes signed a recent affidavit attesting to his Clayton residency, Board Chairperson Ericka Davis introduced a resolution declaring the District 8 seat vacant. The resolution was based on the findings of the police department's investigation.
It was approved by a 5-3-1 vote, with Davis, board vice chairman, Eddie White, and board members Rod Johnson, Yolanda Everett and David Ashe in favor of the action. Opposed were Haynes, Sandra Scott and Michelle Strong. Lois Baines-Hunter abstained.
"I knew they would do anything to shut me up, because I got too close on the land deal [to finding out who was behind it]," Haynes said. He believes he was removed because of his public criticism of a controversial 2006 land purchase.
Haynes also said he plans to ask District Attorney Jewel Scott to investigate the manner in which the police looked at the residency of every board member. Scott said she has not yet received the request.
"I'm going to ask a special grand jury to look at the way they [the police officers] went into my house, forced the girl who was there to say I didn't live there, took pictures and illegally went through my mail," Haynes said. "That goes against the fourth amendment [of the U.S. Constitution]."
Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell used county police to check the addresses provided by every board member when they ran for office. The request came from Clayton School Board Chairperson Davis.
Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner said he didn't know what was illegal about the investigations into every board member's residency, though. He said his officers looked at the residency-related issues SACS officials were concerned about.
"Basically, we were asked to look into the residency issue and that's what we did, nothing more, nothing less," Turner said. "This is an ongoing investigation. If any criminal activity took place, that will be looked at. As of right now, no criminal charges have been filed, and that is that."
Not for Haynes backer, Dr. John Trotter, president of the Metro Association of Classroom Educators (MACE). "They just tried some jackhammer, strong-arm tactic to get rid of Norreese," said Trotter. "Ericka thinks she is some super-duper board member," Trotter said. He said the board should have given Haynes 10 days notice, according to the official code of Georgia, before attempting to remove him from office.
While the removal may be contested in court, it was well received at the board meeting.
Haynes also said he was not phased by the public's reaction to him at the board meeting on Monday. After the board voted Haynes' seat vacant, several audience members stood up and waived their hands in the air while screaming "Get out! Get out! Get out!"
The 1,800 people in attendance were quiet as most board members first took their seats, but began to "boo" Haynes as he moved toward his seat.
Fifty parents, students and other community members demanded resignations from all nine board members during the public comment portion of the meeting. None of it matters to Haynes, though.
"I know half of them don't live in Clayton County, anyway," Haynes said. "Most of those people came from other counties and were just there to support the students."
Davis, Glenn Brock, the attorney hired to handle the SACS issue, and Dorsey Hopson, the school system's legal counsel, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, board members Sandra Scott and Lois Baines-Hunter chose not to sign the affidavits requested by Brock. On Feb. 25, Brock urged board members to sign the affidavits [attesting that they live in their districts] by Monday's board of education meeting.
In addition to Brock's request for the affidavits, and the police department's investigation of the residency issue, Secretary of State Karen Handel has launched her own investigation into the matter.
A candidate for political office must sign an affidavit, stating he or she lives in the district which he or she plans to represent. Swearing a false oath on the affidavit can cost a person $1,000, and/or up to 12 months in jail.
"The secretary of state is already doing an investigation of the residencies, so I decided to let the secretary of state do her investigation," said board member Scott in a brief telephone comment on Tuesday. "Also, the Clayton County Board of Election already has my residency information on file. The information is still the same. I'm going to let the state do it's investigation."
Board member Johnson filed complaints with Attorney General Thurbert Baker, and Clayton County Tax Commissioner Terry Baskin in November. In his complaint, Johnson alleged Baines-Hunter actually lived in another county. She denied there was any truth to the accusation.
Baskin's office has been researching property-tax and homestead-exemption information on board members since the SACS report came out. He was expected to have results from inquiries into Baines-Hunter on Feb. 29, but could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Baines-Hunter could not be reached for comment, either.
- Staff writer Daniel Silliman contributed to this article