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BOE's King facing more ethics complaints

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Board of Education member Michael King is facing more ethics complaints regarding his involvement in a lawsuit against the school system while sitting on the board.

On Oct. 2, state ethics watchdog George Anderson, executive director of the Rome-based Ethics in Government Group, filed complaints against King with Gov. Sonny Perdue, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), and the State Bar of Georgia.

The claims include alleged violations of the board member's oath of office and code of ethics as an elected official and a lawyer, and a breach of public trust.

The school board censured King on Monday because he represented Lakeetra Mason, a former teacher, in a lawsuit against the school system even while sitting on the board. The case was thrown out by a U.S. District Court judge on Sept. 30.

"Even though the case has been thrown out, it doesn't take away from the fact that he did not disclose his involvement in the case until he was confronted about it," said Anderson. "The appearance of an impropriety is just as bad as the impropriety itself."

King could face removal from office, and possible disbarment, if the complaints are upheld.

Perdue is being asked to have a state administrative judge investigate King's involvement in the case and decide whether the board member should be removed from office for violating the board's ethics, and conflict-of-interest policies.

Anderson's complaint also cited King for advertising a Sept. 5 board meeting, which never took place. The school system accused him of violating six board policies on that occasion, because King did not have the authority to call for, or advertise, any board meetings.

Anderson based his request on an earlier decision by the governor to have four now-former Clayton County school board members investigated in August by an administrative judge. That investigation resulted in Perdue removing the board members on Aug. 28.

King said he does not think there is "any substance" to, and "no basis" for, Anderson's complaints. "I have no control over those people who want to file complaints against me, but they do have a right to do so, I guess," said King.

He said he would welcome an administrative hearing on the issue of his representation of Mason. The attorney asked his colleagues to grant him an evidentiary hearing, so he could present his side of the issue, but no hearing was held. The accused board member said he has a right to a hearing under the state's ethics law, but the school board used its ethics policy as guidance on the censure issue.

"What I would like a court to decide is whether or not board policy supersedes the state's ethics law," said King. He also said he does not believe the complaints will go anywhere.

Bert Brantley, the governor's spokesman, said the complaint is being reviewed by Perdue's staff, and a decision has not been made about sending the complaint onto an administrative judge. He also said "the decision will be based on the information we have ....

"We just got it yesterday, so we'll look at it and see how it matches up with the state code," Brantley added. "We don't take these things lightly."

Schoolboard Chairperson Alieka Anderson (not related to George Anderson) said the board will give "100 percent" support to whatever decision Perdue makes concerning King.

"We are trying to get our accreditation back, and we don't need anything getting in the way," she said. "Whatever it takes, we're going to move forward for the children."

However, King could also find his ability to practice law in jeopardy. George Anderson is asking the State Bar of Georgia to look into possible ethics violations by the board member for representing Mason. The state bar is also being asked to look into whether the law school King graduated from, the now-defunct Atlanta Law School, was accredited when the board member got his legal degree.

Disbarment is the maximum punishment King could face if the state bar's investigators decide he acted in an unethical manner.

When contacted on Oct. 2, officials with the State Bar declined to comment on the issue, citing the bar's policy to not confirm whether an investigation is taking place.

George Anderson also wanted to have SACS look into the matter, but Jennifer Oliver, a spokesperson for the accrediting agency, said, "Since Clayton County is not an accredited school system, we are not going to do anything with the complaint." Last week, Oliver said SACS officials were going to let the board deal with this issue on its own, but she also urged the board to follow its ethics policy.