0

Perdue OKs BOE ethics law revisions

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

An amendment to the state law that created the Clayton County Board of Education's Ethics Commission clarifies that, from now on, only the ethics watchdogs, not the school board, can punish board members for misbehavior.

Last year, The Georgia General Assembly and Gov. Sonny Perdue signed off on House Bill 1302, which created a specific code of ethics for the school board, and a seven-member commission to enforce that code.

So far, the commission has ordered the removal of one board member from office.

This week, Perdue signed House Bill 743, a measure that amends House Bill 1302 to add clarity to the issue by vesting punishment authority solely with the ethics commission. It also authorizes commission members to punish their own colleagues for not sufficiently performing their duties, and mandates that the school board establish a budget for its commission until state funding can be secured.

"This strengthens an already strong bill," said state Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Ellenwood), the author of the original ethics law, and it's amendment legislation. "This is an amendment to [2008's] House Bill 1302, which tightens up the language in that bill."

One section of House Bill 743 changes the ethics law to allow commission members to remove one of their colleagues from office by a majority vote, if the member in question "repeatedly fails to carry out his or her official duties, attend meetings of the commission, or adhere to the ethical code of conduct as provided by this Act or other applicable state or federal law."

House Bill 743 also amends the ethics law to mandate that the school board establish a budget to cover the commission's expenses until state funding can be secured to pay the costs of ethics oversight body.

"It is the intention of the General Assembly to seek state funding of the commission within two years after July 1, 2009, and the obligation of the board to provide and fund a budget for the commission shall terminate when and if state funding becomes effective," the new law says.

The revisions to school system's ethics law come at a time when one member of the school board is challenging the validity of the law through two legal challenges in Clayton County Superior Court. School board member Michael King is attempting to have House Bill 1302 declared unconstitutional, after the ethics commission ordered his removal from office in February.

The commission took that action because King appeared to have been involved in a conflict of interest. He represented a former Clayton County teacher in a lawsuit against the school system and the school board - while he was sitting on the board. He appealed the decision to the school board, which upheld the commission's order in late March.

There was some confusion about who had the authority to remove King in February, because his removal was announced as a recommendation by a commmission member during the ethics commission's hearing on King's violation. Official paperwork later sent to School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson, however, listed King's removal as an order, not merely a recommendation.

No court dates are presently set to deal with King's challenges to the law in superior court. One challenge was filed before the board took up the matter, and the other one after the commission's decision was upheld.

An April 14 hearing had been set to deal with the constitutionality of the law, but it was postponed until ethics commission Chairperson Robert Flournoy is properly served notice of King's original legal challenge.

Glanton declined to discuss King's legal challenge in detail, but said he stands by the law he authored. "While I believe the bill [House Bill 1302] is sound and can withstand a constitutional challenge, I am not the one who makes that decision," he said.

Throughout the appeals process, King has been able to remain on the school board and participate in votes on several matters. House Bill 743 changes the ethics law to prevent future board members, in King's position, from participating in school board votes.

Glanton said the amendments included in House Bill 743 are not retroactive, and cannot be applied to the case involving King.