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BOE on hold until after special election

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Because of a lack of enough members to hold business meetings, the Clayton County Board of Education will not hold any meetings until after voters in the board's District 6 decide next week whether Mary Baker or Marcela Bodkin will represent them for the rest of this year.

The board will not meet again until a called gathering on Sept. 22, with an executive session scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m., at the district's Central Administration complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro. District 3 appointee Jessie Goree, and the winner of the special election will be sworn in before the work session.

In addition to voting on business items, the board will also hear public comment, which was scheduled to take place on Aug. 28. That meeting was postponed because board members, and district officials did not know if it would be a legal meeting.

"The decision to postpone was made due to the lack of a quorum ... that would allow votes to take place on agenda items requiring action," said School District Spokesman Charles White in a statement.

White later explained that Corrective Superintendent John Thompson made the decision -- after consulting with board members -- to postpone the meeting.

"They seemed to feel we could wait until after the election, and there wouldn't be any loss of decisions," Thompson said.

Although the state's Open Meetings Act is specific on how many board members are needed to hold a meeting, and how meetings are to be announced, there is nothing in the law which can stop the board from postponing a meeting, if necessary.

Board member Alieka Anderson, who was named the board's temporary chairperson when it last gathered on Sept. 3, could not be reached for comment.

The school board was reduced to three members on Aug. 28, when Gov. Sonny Perdue signed an executive order which removed four former board members for misconduct and violations of the Open Meetings Act. The governor's action put the school system in an awkward position because the school board no longer has a quorum for business meetings.

State law requires a governing body, such as a school board, to have a majority of its seats represented at meetings before business can be discussed and voted on -- unless that business is the appointment of members to fill the vacancies which prevent a quorum from being possible.

For the Clayton County school board, five members need to be present to have a quorum. Either Baker or Bodkin will be the fifth member.

Until the board has a quorum, the school system will continue to find itself in a pickle. The district relies on the board to help the school system operate smoothly. Without board approval, for example, district officials cannot make purchases which exceed $25,000; student and teacher tribunals cannot be dealt with, and the board has to approve personnel hiring and firing decisions.

On Sept. 3, school system legal counsel Julie Lewis said the board could not afford to postpone business until Sept. 22, because "we can't shut down the district ... We have to move forward." Lewis declined to comment for this article.

"They still want to move forward with business," said Thompson.