Clayton County Board of Education Member Trinia Garrett could be sanctioned after an investigator discovered several downloads of what is alleged to be pornography on a district computer in her possession.
Garrett is accused of downloading from more than 60 web sites containing adult pornography, according to Schoolboard Chairperson Pam Adamson.
"What was found on her computer was down right appalling," said Adamson.
The discovery of the alleged pornographic material on Garrett's computer stemmed from an earlier investigation –– according to Garret –– launched in an effort to try to discover the source of rumors being circulated about Clayton County School Superintendent Edmond Heatley. Those rumors, which have been vehemently denied by Heatley –– and denounced by Adamson –– allege that Heatley was having an inappropriate relationship with a female, school district employee.
The initial investigation, both Garrett and Adamson said, called for the school district's equipment to be examined, including computers and cell phones.
"Don't put me in this mess," said Garrett Tuesday, "This [accusation on me] is just a way to take the distraction off Heatley."
Adamson declined to respond to Garrett's allegation that the charge against her is a distraction from other problems, but did say that the investigation that revealed the inappropriate material on the computer assigned to Garrett, derived from an investigation earlier this year, begun by the school system's attorney.
"I will not discuss or give credence to a vicious rumor," Adamson said, referring to discussions surrounding any rumors about Heatley.
During Monday night's board of education meeting, Garrett was confronted by her fellow board members about the alleged downloads. Board members voted to give Garrett 30 days to prepare to defend herself, and show that she did not download the supposed pornographic material –– before they take action against her.
The tension in the room got thick as Garrett began to profess her innocence, and demanded that the board allow her the right to have someone "outside Clayton County" –– an independent investigator –– examine her computer to determine how the allegedly offensive material got there.
That's when Board Member Wanda Smith interjected: "The district is broke, and we don't have the money to pay for an investigator."
Garrett responded sharply: "I was not asking anyone to pay for anything for me." The board then granted Garrett's request.
Adamson said the material that was found on Garrett's computer clearly violates the state's mandated ethics policy and the school system's Internet policy –– and that, if Garrett were a district employee –– this would be grounds for automatic termination.
Since board members are not employees of the school system, the consequences for their actions can vary, if found guilty, said Adamson.
"[Garrett] could be reprimanded, suspended from a board meeting, lose all privileges to operate district technology, or we could go to the governor and ask for her to be removed from the board," she said.
Garrett said she is not denying that pornography was found on her computer, but insisted that she was not the one who downloaded it, and is unaware of who might be responsible.
"This does not have anything to do with me," she said. "I don't know who got a hold of my computer. This is not in my character."
She added that she has an 18-year-old son, but would not say whether she believes he could be responsible. "What am I'm supposed to do, baby-sit my computer –– I'm in school?" she said. "The only thing I'm guilty of is having a computer."
Garrett is the second school board member accused of misconduct in recent weeks. Board Member Jessie Gorree was sanctioned by fellow board members, recently, because of her conduct at a parent booster meeting at North Clayton High School, held in October. Goree's punishment included being suspended from the board's Dec. 5 business meeting, being ineligible to serve as "Board chair or vice-chair for two years," and the disallowing of "any future expenses associated with conferences and events you may attend."
Goree said the allegations brought forth against Garrett are "totally" unnecessary, and should have been addressed privately. "[Board members] are punitive –– and bullies," said Gorree. "This shows the public they are demoting and condemning."
She added that there is a lack of communication among board members, and accused Adamson of abusing her authority as board chairperson.
Adamson said she would have preferred to have handled the situation in private, but –– by law –– the board is required to discuss all board member conduct before the public. "We don't have the luxury of discussing board issues in private," she said. "It's absurd for [Gorree] to think I would want to address something like this before the public –– it's embarrassing."
Garrett said she strongly believes there's a conspiracy among other board members against her. She said she was threatened, and told by Adamson and Charlton Bivins –– the board's vice chairperson –– to resign from the school board. Bivins could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Adamson said she and Bivins did, in fact, advise Garrett to consider offering her resignation. "We gave her a letter of what had been found [on her computer] and how embarrassing this will be for her and the board," said Adamson. "This violates our code of ethics , so we did advise her to resign. She is the one who will lose the most."
Garrett, however, said she will not be resigning. "I did nothing wrong, and I'm not going to let them say I did," she said.
Instead, she said, she is working with State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), who has been an advocate in several instances where he has perceived that justice might not be served. "I told him [Fort] about my case, and I'm going to sue the board for defamation of character."