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BOE's ethics commission generates optimism

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

A clerical employee, an insurance agent, three retirees, a professional fund-raiser, and a businesswoman form the new ethics commission for the Clayton County Board of Education.

Four of the seven commission members were introduced to school staffers, school board members, elected officials and others from the community on Tuesday night during a reception at the school system's Professional Learning Center in Jonesboro. There was no indication as to why the other three members were not present.

"It is my hope and prayer that we never have to use this commission," said state Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro). "That would say to this community the board understands it's impact on the community."

The commission was set up by local legislation signed into law by Gov. Sonny Perdue earlier this year. It established a new code of ethics for the school board after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) threatened to take away the district's accreditation because of a dysfunctional governing board. SACS revoked the accreditation on Sept. 1, for the same reason.

The commission was set up to enforce the ethics code, and the Clayton County Legislative Delegation was tasked with picking the review body's membership.

The commission will meet four times a year, and the school system is responsible for paying the commission members $50 for each meeting. The district also is responsible for making sure commission members receive training to understand how to do their jobs. The commission will undergo its first training session on Saturday.

The members are: Karolen Anetia Mazyck-Dowdell, 50, a clerical employee; Stephenie Turnipseed, 53, an insurance agent; Edda Rose Feimster, 63, a retired Georgia Department of Revenue employee; Robert Flournoy, 64, a retired Atlanta Public Schools teacher; Mike Barnes, 56, a retiree; Sam Burston, 51, a professional fund-raiser, and Deborah Jester, 50, owner of a transportation (minibus) business.

Larry O'Keeffe, 58, a long-time board watcher, will serve as the lone alternate for the commission. He will join the commission if a member has to quit before his or her term ends.

Mazyck-Dowdell, Turnipseed, and Reimster will serve four-year terms on the commission. Flournoy, Barnes, Burston, and Jester will serve two-year terms. Beginning in 2010, all members of the commission will serve four-year, staggered terms.

Glanton said the staggered terms allow for continuous leadership on the commission. He also said members can only serve one term, because the delegation wanted to avoid having members become too comfortable in their positions.

The commission will have an independent legal counsel to avoid a conflict of interest with the commission and school board relying on the same attorney.

Jester, who was appointed by Sen. Valencia Seay (D-Riverdale), said improvement will not come overnight, but she also believes the improvements made in Clayton County schools will eventually spread throughout the state.

"We've got to have a checks-and-balances system in place," Jester said. "There are rules that have got to be made, and followed."

Turnipseed, who was appointed by Sen. Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro), said she wants the commission to serve as a reminder to the board that the school system should be working in the best interests of the children. Turnipseed has three children who graduated from Mt. Zion High School, and she served on advisory councils for three former superintendents of Clayton County Schools.

"I want Clayton County [schools] to be able to provide the best education possible," she said.

Flournoy, who was appointed by Rep. Georganna Sinkfield (D-Atlanta), said the commission should be supportive of the school board, but also firm when it comes to enforcing the ethics code.

"Good leadership is a blessing, and bad leadership is a curse," he said.