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Lack of quorum derails ethics meeting

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Education's new Ethics Commission waited 52 minutes -- after its scheduled starting time -- in hopes of holding its first meeting on Thursday. But the gathering was eventually called off because the group couldn't muster enough members to constitute a quorum.

The meeting was supposed to be an organizational one. Members were expected to chose a chairperson and a vice chairperson, approve an operating budget, hire an independent legal counsel, adopt sanction guidelines and procedures for processing ethics complaints, and a method for using school board support staff.

"We all wanted this to be done with," said commission member Larry O'Keeffe. "We've got a formula in mind [for conducting business], but we need to discuss it in a full forum."

The ethics commission has rescheduled the meeting for Friday, Nov. 21, at 5:30 p.m., at the school system's

Central Administration Complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro. The body was created by the Georgia General Assembly earlier this year to make sure the Clayton County Board of Education follows ethics policy.

Unethical behavior by school board members helped lead to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) revoking the school system's accreditation in September.

Nearly an hour after the meeting was scheduled to begin, only four commission members were present, and Arlecia Battle, the school board's secretary, announced that the meeting would not take place. State law mandates that five members of the seven-person commission be present, in order to have a quorum.

Commission members, and one alternate, are chosen by the Clayton County legislative delegation. The current members of the body include: O'Keeffe; Mike Barnes; Sam Burston; Robert Flournoy; Deborah Jester; Karolen Mazyck-Dowdell, and Stephanie Turnipseed.

O'Keeffe was originally slated to be an alternate, but he said he became a full member last month when former commission member, Edda Rose Feimster, decided not to participate. O'Keeffe said he did not know the reason for Feimster's decision.

O'Keeffe, Burston, Flournoy and Mazyck-Dowdell showed up for the meeting. Turnipseed could not attend, because she had a family emergency, while Jester got stuck in traffic on her way to the meeting, said Flournoy.

Barnes has not gone through state-mandated training, yet, and cannot participate in meetings until he does, Flournoy added.

The commission was created by House Bill 1302, which was signed into law in May by Gov. Sonny Perdue, to make sure school board members acted in an ethical manner.

O'Keeffe said the commission will move to a quarterly meeting schedule after procedures are set up. He added that the group will not likely meet again this year, after those procedures are established.

Linda Granger, a Clayton County parent and community activist, expressed disappointment in the commission, and accused the group of acting like the people it was designed to govern.

"We have a dysfunctional school board, which is why House Bill 1302 was created," said Granger. "Now, we have a dysfunctional ethics commission."