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King appeals removal from Clayton school board

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Former Clayton County Board of Education Member Michael King is asking a judge to declare his removal from the school board unconstitutional, and to re-instate him to public office.

King filed a petition for judicial review of his removal from the board Thursday in Clayton County Superior Court, along with a complaint asking a judge to rule the school board's ethics commission is illegal.

King is set to appear April 14 in Superior Court for a hearing on a similar, earlier request to have the legislation creating the commission declared unconstitutional. Along with that filing in March, he sought to stop the school board from ousting him from office, but a judge declined that request.

The school board removed King from office March 23 for violating the board's ethics policy by representing a former teacher in a lawsuit against the district and the school board - while he was sitting on the board. No court date has been set to hear arguments related to King's latest request.

"The [state] constitution says no special law can conflict with general law," King said. "That means the decisions made by the ethics commission and the school board are null and void. That means they never existed at all."

In his 16-page petition, King argues House Bill 1302 of 2008, which created the ethics commission and an ethics code for the school board, is unconstitutional. He points to a passage in Article III, Section 6, Paragraph 4, of the state constitution forbidding the Georgia General Assembly from making a "special law" that conflicts with an existing general law.

King argues the state's general code of ethics for elected officials does not bar them from representing people in lawsuits against the body on which the elected official serves.

"House Bill 1302, a special ethics statute, attempts to regulate conduct of school board members in Clayton County, Georgia when such conduct is regulated by a general ethics law for school board member [sic] in Georgia," King wrote in his petition filed Thursday.

House Bill 1302 was approved by the General Assembly last year as a piece of local legislation, which means it is designed to deal only with a specific community.

King, who was elected last year through a special election in the board's District 4, also said House Bill 1302 should be declared unconstitutional because it is too vague in some areas, and is "overly broad because it unlawfully penalizes a local board member for being a party to a contract or transaction which was effective before the board member qualified to run for office."

In King's request, he also argues equal protection clauses were violated because House Bill 1302 placed financial restraints on Clayton school board members that are not placed on members of other school boards.

He argues his due process rights were violated because there was not a hearing officer, separate from the ethics commission, presiding over the commission's Feb. 11 hearing on his alleged ethics violations.

King argues the commission lacked subject matter jurisdiction, House Bill 1302 violates a federal order requiring all voting laws in Georgia to get prior approval from the U.S. Department of Justice, and it violates the federal Voting Rights Act by "diluting strength of voters in Clayton County School District 4, by discouraging qualified candidates from running for the elective office."

According to court documents, King wants a judge to grant:

· A jury trial to determine whether he violated the board's ethics policy.

· A ruling that would declare the Georgia law which created the school board's ethics commission unconstitutional.

· A ruling that would void the board's vote to remove him from office.

· An injunction to bar the ethics commission and the school board from removing him from office until the Georgia Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the commission's existence and its decision.

"I feel pretty confident that I will prevail with my legal arguments," King said in a phone interview Friday. "I haven't seen anything that contradicts my understanding of the law."

Ethics arguments on eve of SACS visit

King said he plans to participate in the April 13 school board meeting, where a review team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will be in attendance to observe the manner in which the school board conducts its business. Under House Bill 1302, King is allowed to remain a voting member of the board during the appeals process.

The review team will be in the district April 13-15 to see if the school system and school board have made enough progress in meeting nine mandates for improvement to warrant re-accreditation from SACS. In addition to watching the board at one of its meetings, the review team will interview every board member, as well as some school system staff and community members.

The team's decision would mean the difference between Clayton County's high school Class of 2009 graduating from an accredited school system, and the district having to start over from scratch and spend two more years working to regain SACS accreditation.

One of the mandates for improving the school system is establishing, and following, a strong ethics policy. In August of last year, SACS officials said House Bill 1302 was a step toward meeting this mandate, but the ethics commission needed to be seen in action. King said he does not believe the district has met this mandate, though, because of the reasons outlined in his petition to the court.

"SACS mandated the board must establish a code of ethics, and you can't do that if you have an unconstitutional ethics policy," King said.

Ethics Commission Legal Counsel Winston Denmark and school board Chairperson Alieka Anderson could not be reached for comment.