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Georgia House approves BOE ethics bill

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

An ethics commission, which would provide oversight for the Clayton County Board of Education, moved a step closer to reality on Thursday.

The State House of Representatives approved the local calendar, which included the ethics commission bill, as well as other pieces of local legislation from across the state, by a 152-3 vote.

"I'm ecstatic," said Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), the author of the legislation. "This is not a catch-all for everything outlined in the [Southern Association of Colleges and Schools] report, but it's an effort to show SACS we're serious about addressing this issue. We have never promoted this bill as the answer, but it is part of the answer."

Glanton and fellow Reps. Celeste Johnson (D-Jonesboro) and Darryl Jordan (D-Riverdale) voted favorably on the legislation, while Rep. Georganna Sinkfield (D-Atlanta) was excused from the vote, according to the General Assembly's web site. Reps. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale), Joe Heckstall (D-East Point) and Wade Starr (D-Fayetteville) didn't participate in the vote.

The Senate will begin looking at the bill when it reconvenes on March 27. Legislative rules state more than 50 percent of senators from a delegation have to support local legislation in order to bring it to the full Senate for a vote. Since there are only two senators in the Clayton County delegation, both of them need to support the ethics legislation.

Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale) has already announced her support for the measure, but her colleague, Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro), said she will discuss her thoughts on the legislation after she reviews it on March 27.

"I am a product of the Clayton County Public School System, and I will do what's best for the children of Clayton County," Davenport said.

Members of the Clayton County legislative delegation began working on the legislation in January, while SACS officials were conducting an investigation of the school system.

SACS officials recommended taking away the district's accreditation, if nine mandates for improvement are not met by Sept. 1. One of those recommendations is a strong ethics code, which includes sanctions for unethical behavior.

If it is passed by the Senate and signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, the legislation would establish a seven-member ethics commission. This body would be appointed by members of the Clayton County legislative delegation. Four members of the commission would be initially appointed to serve two-year terms, while another three would serve four-year terms.

After the first two-years, all seven members of the commission would serve staggered four-year terms. Each member of the commission will be a registered voter in Clayton County, who is not an employee of the school board.

The commission would have oversight of school board members' behavior and conduct. It would have the power to censure, reprimand or remove a board member from office.

"It's not the school board policing itself, it's an independent body," Glanton said. "You have to remember, the people who went to SACS did so because they felt they had no other recourse. This [legislation] gives them another recourse ..."