By Curt Yeomans
The ethics commission created to oversee the Clayton County Board of Education has established procedures for lodging citizen complaints and issuing sanctions against school board members.
The commission, in its first official meeting Friday, announced it will post the procedures on the school system's web site in the coming weeks, so Clayton County residents will have access to them. Residents will also have online access to the required documents for filing complaints against school board members.
Here is some of what will be posted:
·The complaints must be sent to the commission in writing, and verified under oath, according to a copy of the guidelines.
· The person filing the complaint must send it to the commission chairman, via the school board's secretary, who also works for the commission.
· The complaint must be notarized, and three copies (including the original) of the complaint must be filed with the commission.
·The complaint must be filed within six months of the violation, or within six months of the violation being discovered through due diligence, in case concealment or nondisclosure has taken place. The sections of the ethics code created by House Bill 1302 must be cited carefully.
"Please note that only provisions of the act which contain substantive standards that can be violated by an elected official, appointed officer, or employee of the Clayton County school system; or other applicable state or federal law, and those provisions relative to disclosure statements can be considered for action by the commission," states the document outlining the complaint process.
After the commission receives a complaint, the person complained about will be notified. The commission has 30 days to conduct a closed-door meeting to discuss the merits of the complaint. If the commission feels it needs to proceed further with the complaint, a public hearing will be scheduled.
There are two classes of sanctions the commission can recommend against a school board member:
· Class One sanctions are punishable by censure or reprimand by the commission.
· Class Two sanctions result in the board member's removal from office.
Violations which rise to the level of a Class One sanction include: Improper use of resources and the acceptance or solicitation of money or things of value, such as gifts, transportation, loans or meals; engaging in private employment which is incompatible with the board member's ability to perform his or her duties; accepting honoraria; engaging in any business or having a financial stake in the affairs of the school system; advertising business or professional services to the school system; having a personal interest in school system real estate, buses or materials and supplies, or failing to comply with disclosure rules.
Violations which can result in a board member's removal from office include: Voting or participation in negotiations with a company when the board member, or a relative, has a financial interest; voting or participating in the appointment, employment or promotion of a relative; participating in deliberations when the board member, or a relative, has a conflict of interest; representing someone in any action or proceeding against the school system; soliciting membership in any professional organizations or labor union that represents school system employees, and disclosing information obtained during closed-door meetings to members of the public.
Additionally, the commission selected Robert Flournoy to serve as the body's chairman, and Sam Burston was elected as the vice chairman. Flournoy also announced that the commission has been awarded $18,600 per year to covers costs, such as legal fees, document reproduction costs, and to pay the stipends for each commission member.
However, the meeting got off to a rocky start when commission member, Mike Barnes, stood up in the audience early on and asked why he could not participate in the meeting.
He was told it was because he had not received the required training.
Barnes countered by announcing that he was trained by state Reps. Wade Starr (D-Fayetteville) and Darryl Jordan (D-Riverdale), but the legislation which created the commission said only the school board could provide training to commissioners.
Barnes, a former member of the school board, held Starr's seat in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1999 until 2006, when he did not seek re-election.
Barnes left the meeting after Flournoy said the commission would need to see verification of any training.