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BOE postpones vote on legal-services pool

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Education decided on Monday to table discussion on using a pool of law firms to handle its legal services, after board members could not agree on how many firms should take the lead, or how work would be distributed among multiple law firms.

The board's inability to reach a consensus was demonstrated in the narrow, 5-4 vote during its business meeting to postpone further discussion on legal services for Clayton County Public Schools.

Board members Charlton Bivins, Trinia Garrett, Jessie Goree, Michael King and Wanda Smith voted in favor of tabling the issue. Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson, Vice Chairperson Ophelia Burroughs, and board members Pamela Adamson and Mary Baker opposed postponing further dialog on the matter.

The original proposal from Superintendent Edmond Heatley was to move from having one law firm taking the lead on legal services, to having the work spread out across a pool of six firms.

Some board members balked at that idea last week during a board work session. On Monday, after no one made a motion to hire all six firms, Adamson made a motion to hire only two of them full-time.

"I move that the board approve [Brock, Clayton, Calhoun and Rogers], and Fincher, Denmark and Williams to provide legal service to Clayton County Public Schools," Adamson said. "I further move that the board authorize Dr. Heatley to use the other firms in the event a situation arises where the firms of Brock and Clay, or Fincher, Denmark and Williams do not have the expertise, or experience to provide adequate legal services."

Board member Bivins, however, voiced his opposition to having even two firms overseeing legal services for the district, arguing that it would leave the school system without leadership in the legal arena. "I have no problem subletting other firms to handle extra caseloads, but there needs to be a head," Bivins said. "I've always been told anything with two heads is a freak."

He also argued that, if there were going to be two law firms overseeing legal services, there needed to be something included in the proposal that would serve as a "measuring stick," allowing the district to decide which firm would handle which cases.

School Board Vice Chairperson Burroughs then argued that a measuring stick already exists. When the proposal was presented last week by school system Deputy Superintendent Stefanie Phillips, board members were given a sheet which listed 20 areas in which the district needed legal advice.

Under each area, there was a list of which firms, from the pool of six, provided expertise in that area. "We know what each firm does, so we won't match each firm up with the wrong case," Burroughs argued.

Finally, the disagreements on how many firms should be used, and how work would be distributed among them, led school board member Goree to suggest that the issue be tabled until the board could discuss it further at its next work session, which is scheduled to take place on Nov. 16.

"We have too many thoughts, and this is a very important decision," Goree said. "We need to make an informed decision."

The Marietta-based law firm of Brock, Clay, Calhoun and Rogers, oversaw a national superintendent search for Clayton County Public Schools earlier this year, and has been acting as the district's primary legal services provider since late March.

The Jonesboro-based law firm of Fincher, Denmark and Williams is a supplemental legal services provider for the district, and one of its partners, Winston Denmark, is also the legal counsel for the school board's ethics commission.

The district has already spent $106,024 on legal services during fiscal year 2010, and is expected to spend another $219,000 during the remainder of the fiscal year, according to a copy of the executive summary provided to school board members at last week's work session.

In other action, the board voted 8-1 in favor of approving a recommendation from Heatley to hold the 2010 high school graduation ceremonies at the Georgia Dome. Board member Wanda Smith cast the dissenting vote.

The board also voted unanimously to authorize school board attorney Glenn Brock to draft a formal resolution which would give Heatley permission to apply for the de-annexation of 155 acres of land in Riverdale. The land is the site of Charles R. Drew High School, and Southern Crescent Stadium.

In addition, board members approved, by a 7-1-1 vote, the hiring of Derrick Dalton, a sales representative for Eli Lilly and Company, to be the new assistant principal at Mundy's Mill High School. Goree was the dissenting voice, and school board member Garrett abstained.

Prior to joining Eli Lilly in 2006, Dalton was the principal at Mundy's Mill Middle School, and an assistant principal at Pointe South Middle School before that, said Assistant Superintendent Anthony Smith, who was on the team that interviewed Dalton.

The school board also unanimously approved the transfer of North Clayton Middle School Principal Clarence Jackson, to the Eddie J. White K-8 Academy, where he will serve as principal, beginning on Jan. 1, 2010. The K-8 school is under construction near Lovejoy, and is scheduled to open in August 2010.