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Clayton BOE approves two-law-firm plan

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Public Schools will move to a legal services system that features two main law firms, while authorizing Superintendent Edmond Heatley to use four additional firms as needed.

The Clayton County Board of Education approved the plan Monday at its business meeting, despite Heatley asking for all six law firms to be placed on equal footing. The decision makes the Marietta-based firm of Brock, Clay, Calhoun and Rogers (also known as Brock and Clay), and the Jonesboro based-law firm of Fincher, Denmark and Williams, the district's primary legal-services providers.

The move was approved by a 5-3-1 vote, with school board members Charlton Bivins, Trinia Garrett and Jessie Goree voting against the measure. Board member Michael King abstained from the vote.

"The majority of the district's legal work is to go to those two law firms," School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said. "It's kinda the same [as Heatley's six-law-firm recommendation]."

The school system's legal-services plan marks a departure from the way the district has utilized legal providers for years. For at least 20 years, the school system has had only one main legal-services provider.

From March until Monday, Brock and Clay had been the sole, lead, legal-services provider for the district. Prior to Brock and Clay, the district had an in-house legal counsel position, from July 2007 to March of this year. The Decatur-based law firm of Weekes and Candler, LLC, was the district's main legal services provider for the 18 years that preceded the in-house legal counsel position.

Under all previous legal-service provider plans, firms such as Fincher, Denmark and Williams acted as supplemental providers for the district.

With this new plan, the supplemental legal services providers will be the Atlanta-based law firms of Alexander & Associates; Carlock, Copeland and Stair; Hollowell, Foster and Gepp, and The Weatherly Law Firm. They were the other firms in Heatley's proposed six-firm, legal-services pool.

"There are two law firms that were considered the best, but there are some areas they do not have expertise in, that the other law firms do have expertise in," Heatley said during the meeting.

But, one school board member, Charlton Bivins, said while he did vote against having two main law firms, he also would have voted against having six main law firms. He said he will seek to have the duties of Brock and Clay, and Fincher, Denmark and Williams separated to focus on different groups.

"Now that we have two, now I have ambitions that the board of education could have its own law firm," Bivins said.

In other action, the school board approved, by a 7-2 vote, changing the district's alternative meal plan to provide lower cost meals to students who do not have the money to pay for a full school meal, on any given day. Board members Garrett and Goree voted against the measure.

The board also unanimously approved a resolution expressing support for Georgia school systems that are suing state education leaders over charter school approvals. The board also unanimously approved making Mundy's Mill Middle School Principal Nash Alexander the new principal at Mundy's Mill High School.