Clayton County Board of Education Member Jessie Goree has been sanctioned by her fellow board members, because of “recent conduct [that] violates our policies and state law.”
Goree’s punishment includes being suspended from the board’s next business meeting, being ineligible to serve as “Board chair or vice-chair for two years,” and disallowing “any future expenses associated with conferences and events you may attend.”
Notice of the board’s plan to take action, and the possible punishment, were included in a letter from the board of education to Goree, dated Nov. 1, 2011.
At its Nov. 7 meeting –– following intense debate and several awkward and emotional moments –– a two-thirds majority of the board voted to impose the sanctions on Goree.
Goree and board member, Trinia Garret, voted against the action, while Michael King abstained.
What prompted the action against Goree, according to School Board Chairperson Pam Adamson, was a complaint filed against her by Superintendent Edmond Heatley, charging that Goree had overstepped her bounds as a board member and acted inappropriately during a meeting of parents, football boosters, students, Heatley and members of his administrative team, at North Clayton High School on Oct. 5.
The meeting had been called to allow Heatley to address concerns on the part of parents and students about hiring practices for coaches, transportation issues, and whether the school district was planning to close North Clayton High School, according to letters and e-mails from several people who attended the meeting.
Heatley’s complaint, which was supported by others, said that, as Heatley was attempting to answer the questions of parents, Goree accused him of lying about Clayton County concession stand sales, and insisted on asking the same questions over and over again, even though Heatley had already answered them.
According to Heatley, Goree became disrespectful and combative. He said Goree then stated, “I’m going to stand up! Let me tell you something about hierarchy. You are not going to be disrespectful to me. I’m a board member, and I’m your supervisor, you are not going to treat me this way.”
Heatley said in his complaint letter to the board, that Goree also created a hostile work environment for him and his administrative team, and sometimes flooded him with so many e-mails, he couldn’t perform his duties.
Goree, however, said it was Heatley who was disrespectful. “In my opinion, he was being disrespectful to the parents, and in the parents’ opinion, he was disrespectful to them,” she said.
Stephanie Kennedy, one of the parents present at the meeting, said as Heatley was answering questions, the atmosphere seemed to get hostile. “As questions were getting answered, there were attitudes being tossed. The meeting did get out of hand, but it was not all Ms. Goree [and] Dr. Heatley's fault,” said Kennedy.
The letter addressed to Goree, by the board of education, states that her actions clearly violated both state and local board policies. School Board Chairperson Adamson said that this is not the first time Goree has been reprimanded for acting inappropriately at a meeting.
“Goree has been reprimanded back in 2010 ... for saying derogatory things about board members and the superintendent,” said Adamson. “This has been a long time coming.”
In addition to the North Clayton parents meeting, Goree is accused, in the board’s letter, of being responsible for producing copies of a letter she wrote in regards to district staff, Heatley, and other school board members that was later published on a blog. The blog referred to Adamson as incompetent and White; Heatley as self-loathing and a coward, and the board members as week wimps.
Goree denied being responsible for the blog posting and said she has never used any racial or derogatory language to describe Adamson or any other board member.
“[My] letter that was posted on the blog was altered,” said Goree, “I would never use that kind of language.”
Goree also said she believes it was another board member, who posted the letter online. However, Adamson said they were unable to prove who posted the letter, but because Goree was the original author of the letter, she is responsible for where the letter ends up.
In Goree’s defense, however, Adamson said the original letter never referred to her as an “incompetent White woman.” “[Goree] has never made any racial comments to me, and I’m upset that this was something put out to the public,” she said.
Even so, she said, if Goree does not change her conduct and start following board rules, the next step is to go to the governor, to have her removed from office.
“[Goree] is a likable person,” said Adamson. “Me and the other board members just want her to follow the rules.”
Goree said she felt bullied at Monday night’s board meeting, and was unaware that Heatley had filed a complaint against her. “If I would have known he filed a complaint against me, I would have filed one against him,” she said. “I feel there was a lack of due process, and I did not get the opportunity to defend myself.”
Kennedy, who attended the board meeting, agreed, saying that Goree was treated unfairly, and if she had been given the opportunity to speak on Goree’s behalf, the situation would have ended –– in her opinion –– differently.
Instead, Kennedy got so upset, that she stormed out of the meeting and began yelling in the lobby of the administrative complex.
Adamson said Goree was aware of the agenda for Monday’s meeting and had plenty of time to prepare her case. “She was the one who called me after the meeting took place at North Clayton High School and informed me she had said some inappropriate things,” said Adamson. “I spoke with our lawyers and they informed this is not a court of law, these are just board issues.”
Goree said she did nothing wrong, and is now considering legal action. “I do plan on consulting an attorney,” she said, “because, basically, I was not allowed due process and our [district] attorney said there is no process for appeal. [How] do I get sanctioned for trying to do my job, and for sending too many e-mails to the superintendent –– that is just ridiculous.”
Heatley has been advised not to discuss the matter, by Adamson and lawyers. He did not talk about it at the board meeting. Part of the reason the district lost its accreditation in 2008 was for having a dysfunctional school board. When asked if this incident will threaten the school system’s accreditation status, Adamson said, “Not at all. I spoke with SACS [the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools] about the situation, and they were fine.
“I thought the discussion Monday night was healthy, and every board member got to make their comment.”