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Clock's ticking on King's BOE appeal

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Education has 29 days left to decide the political future of Board Member Michael King, since he has appealed the decision of the school system's ethics commission to remove him from office.

The commission ordered King's removal from the school board on Feb. 11, because he was representing a former Clayton County teacher in a lawsuit against the school system when he took office in August 2008, and did not notify school officials about it.

King filed his appeal of the ethics commission's decision Thursday, which allowed him to remain on the board, as a voting member, throughout the appeals process.

School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said Friday that no date has been set for the board to hear King's appeal. "We're going to look at the evidence from the commission, and the board will make a decision about Mr. King," Anderson said. "I can't say when that will be, though."

Under the state law that created the ethics commission, the school board has 30 days from the day King notified officials of his appeal, to vote on accepting or modifying the commission's recommendation. This means the board has until March 28 to make its decision. Although Anderson could not say when the board would take up the appeal, she said it would be within the state-mandated time frame. "We are going to follow the law," she said.

The bill, however, does not lay out a framework for how the board is supposed to deliberate on an appeal. Even so, Anderson said the evidence provided by the ethics commission will dictate, to some degree, how the board handles its deliberations on King's appeal. If there is something in the evidence that the board has a question about, it may call on officials from the commission to offer some clarity.

Robert Flournoy, the chairman of the ethics commission, said Thursday that the evidence reviewed by the commission was forwarded to the board with the Feb. 16 letter formally notifying Anderson and School Board Vice Chairperson Ophelia Burroughs of the commission's decision.

In accordance with the sanctioning guidelines adopted by the commission last year, commission members decided at King's hearing that King's representation of the teacher [while he was a school board member] was a "Class 2" ethics violation. The guidelines state that "Class 2 violations are punishable by removal of the board member from office." No other form of punishment is listed for "Class 2" violations.

Anderson said board members have not yet received the evidence, but it will be turned over to them by School System General Counsel Julie Lewis. Anderson deferred other questions about how the board members would receive the evidence to Lewis. Lewis, and King, however, could not be reached comment.

The board will make its decision by a majority vote of all board members, and "[t]he board shall notify the accused board member of its decision by certified mail," according to House Bill 1302, which established the ethics commission. Anderson said King would not be allowed to participate in a vote on how to handle the commission's decision, since he is the subject of that order.

If the board upholds King's removal from office, or punishes him in some other form, such as censure, then King can appeal the decision to Clayton County Superior Court. King would have 10 days to file that appeal.

"No disciplinary action shall occur until all appeals have been exhausted, and the accused member shall remain a voting member of the board until that time," states House Bill 1302.

State Rep. Michael Glanton (D-Jonesboro), the author of the legislation, declined to comment on the appeals process, citing the ongoing nature of King's case, except to say, "I do have full confidence in the due process outlined in House Bill 1302."

Since the ethics commission made its decision, it has led to confusion about King's status on the board, resulting in his removal from the board's dais by Jonesboro police officers before the board's work session last Monday.

Flournoy said, at this point, King's removal from office is a recommendation from the commission, which the commission chairman said is the same thing as an order. Flournoy said -- appeal or no appeal -- the school board would have had to approve the order. He said King should not be allowed to participate in board meetings while his appeal is being dealt with, even though he said King's removal is "official until he appeals."

Flournoy rationalized not allowing King to participate as a board member by comparing King to police officers, who have been the subject of a discipline hearing for allegedly breaking department rules and are waiting for a decision from their superiors.

"They are removed from their duties until the hearing decision is made official," Flournoy said.

The issue was placed on the agenda for the board's business meeting, which will be held Monday, but Anderson said it was an error, and the issue will not be addressed at the session. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m., at the district's central administration complex in Jonesboro.