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School board member faces ethics inquiry

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Education's ethics commission will conduct a hearing today into school board member Michael King's representation of a former Clayton County teacher in a lawsuit against the school system, and the board on which he serves.

King, a lawyer, was censured by his colleagues on Oct. 6, 2008, for violating the school board's ethics policy. It forbids board members from representing anyone in a lawsuit against the school system.

The ethics policy and the commission were created by House Bill 1302 in the Georgia General Assembly, and later signed into law by Gov. Sonny Perdue in May of 2008.

On Tuesday, School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said the King case was automatically forwarded to the ethics commission, because of the censure. The hearing will take place today at 10 a.m., in the school system's central administration complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., in Jonesboro.

"We're trying to follow our policies and police ourselves," said Anderson. "We're just not going to tolerate that type of behavior."

The school system lost its accreditation on Sept. 1, 2008, partially because of unethical behavior by former board members. The ethics commission was created to stop similar behavior from happening again. Today's hearing will be the first test to see how well the commission can enforce the board's state-mandated ethics policy.

Since alleged unethical behavior led to the school system losing its accreditation, Anderson said the board wants to stamp out future occurrences of similar behavior. She said board members are expected to report any unethical behavior their colleagues are engaged in, to either her, or district officials.

"Our goal is to be ethically, and morally, correct," Anderson said.

Since the lawsuit was against the school board as a collective unit, and not against individual members of the governing body, King became a defendant in the case when he took office on Aug. 25, but he remained the plaintiff's attorney for more than a month afterward.

Last September, board members were asked to sign affidavits declaring they did not have conflicts of interest which would affect their ability to govern the school system. King drew a line through the word "not."

He later argued that he was letting the board know he had a conflict of interest. However, he did not disclose his involvement in the case until after the school system's general counsel, Julie Lewis, informed Anderson and Superintendent John Thompson about the case.

The lawsuit, in which King was a teacher's lawyer, was thrown out by a U.S. District Court judge on Sept. 30.