Mum’s the word: BOE re­mains largely silent on il­le­gal meet­ing

The Covington News - - News - AM­BER PITTMAN Staff Re­porter

The New­ton County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion re­mains largely silent fol­low­ing what Ge­or­gia law in­di­cates was clearly an il­le­gal ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion held March 20, that vi­o­lated not only state code but sev­eral of the board’s poli­cies as well.

Ac­cord­ing to co-chair and Dis­trict 1 rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jeff Meadors, what started as a le­git­i­mate ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion prior to the monthly board meet­ing quickly turned way­ward when Chair­man and Dis­trict 2 rep­re­sen­ta­tive Eddie John­son re­port­edly asked Su­per­in­ten­dent Gary Mathews to leave and BOE at­tor­ney Kent Camp­bell to come into the room. Meadors said none of the board mem­bers made a mo­tion to leave the closed ses­sion and the doors re­mained shut.

Ge­or­gia’s Open Meet­ings Law re­quires, with the ex­cep­tion of a few items (land ac­qui­si­tion, per­son­nel mat­ters — dis­cus­sion only, not votes, and the dis­cus­sion of pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion with the board’s at­tor­ney) that all meet­ings be open.

State At­tor­ney Gen­eral Sam Olens has the abil­ity to charge board mem­bers civilly and crim­i­nally who “know­ingly and will­fully” vi­o­late the law, although a for­mal com­plaint must be filed with the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice be­fore this can

“Dr. Mathews acted very sur­prised and left (when asked by Chair­man John­son)”

— Jeff Meadors

hap­pen. Even then a claim would not im­me­di­ately re­sult in charges. In­stead, the more likely re­sult would be me­di­a­tion led by the At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s of­fice to see if mat­ters can be re­solved prior to a suit be­ing filed. A com­plaint does not have to come from a mem­ber of the board or the su­per­in­ten­dent. Com­plaints can be filed by any con­cerned in­di­vid­u­als.

Meadors said the meet­ing, led largely by John­son, had to do with a col­umn he had writ­ten in The Cit­i­zen news­pa­per that dealt with nepo­tism. He said at­tor­ney Camp­bell didn’t ad­vise him to stop writ­ing his col­umns. But Meadors claims Camp­bell did in­struct him to dis­as­so­ci­ate him­self from the BOE when do­ing so.

“Some­thing to the ef­fect was stated by the chair that

we have a “pa­per prob­lem.” He held up a copy of one of my col­umns and it went from there,” Meadors said in an email. “Then, Kent (Camp­bell) stated that while he did not want to in­ter­fere with my first amend­ment rights that he was di­rect­ing me to “in­sist” that the Cit­i­zen re­move my board af­fil­i­a­tion from the col­umns.”

Ac­cord­ing to an email from Meadors, the meet­ing came “out of nowhere,” and in the past, he has been praised for his col­umns.

“Dr. Mathews acted very sur­prised and left (when asked by Chair­man John- son),” Meadors said. “I have re­ceived out­stand­ing sup­port from fac­ulty, staff and lead­er­ship, as well as elected and ap­pointed of­fi­cials. I feel elected of­fi­cials have a right to write.

“I have strong opin­ions and ex­pect rig­or­ous de­bate, but I have never pre­tended to speak for a col­lec­tive body. It’s not even within ethics or law to do so.”

With the ex­cep­tion of Meadors, the other four board mem­bers have de­clined to com­ment.

Dis­trict 4 rep­re­sen­ta­tive Al­mond Turner de­clined, say­ing he was di­rected by at­tor­ney Camp­bell to re­main mum. Dis­trict 3 rep­re­sen­ta­tive Shak­ila Hen­der­son-baker said she had not been ad­vised the meet­ing was not an ex­ecu- tive ses­sion, and there­fore would not com­ment on it. And Dis­trict 5 rep­re­sen­ta­tive Abi­gail Mor­gan Cog­gin said in an email, “I am bound by a code of ethics and am not at lib­erty to ad­dress mat­ters dis­cussed dur­ing ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion.”

John­son also cited the board’s code of ethics, say­ing it did not al­low him to com­ment on items dis­cussed in ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion, fur­ther mud­dling the sit­u­a­tion. A close read­ing of the board’s code of ethics re­veals John­son ap­peared to vi­o­late sev­eral of them, start­ing with re­quest­ing that the su­per­in­ten­dent leave the room be­fore the dis­cus­sion re­gard­ing Meadors’ col­umn.

Ac­cord­ing to the code, the board is bound to “rec- og­nize that the lo­cal su­per­in­ten­dent should serve as sec­re­tary, ex-of­fi­cio to the board and should be present at all meet­ings of the board ex­cept when his or her con­tract, salary or per­for­mance is un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.”

Mathews also de­clined to com­ment on the mat­ter, say­ing that he was not in­cluded in the meet­ing and “thus, have no com­ments to ren­der.”

At­tor­ney Camp­bell said he does “not dis­cuss or com­ment on mat­ters raised in ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion,” and that he would like to com­ment and “set the record straight,” but that he was bound by the state BAR Code of Ethics to pro­tect the con­fi­den­tial­ity of things dis­cussed with the BOE.

If the meet­ing was held il­le­gally, and even if it was in ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion, there is noth­ing in the state law or the board’s code that pro­hibits them from com­ment­ing.

The state’s rules of le­gal ethics state that an at­tor­ney who breaches those rules could face be­ing dis­barred at the most, and dis­ci­plined in the least. Camp­bell also de­clined to com­ment on the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing dis­barred.

How­ever, be­cause Camp­bell par­tic­i­pated in the il­le­gal meet­ing, it does vi­o­late the state’s le­gal ethics that state at­tor­neys should not par­tic­i­pate in un­eth­i­cal prac­tices. The ar­gu­ment can be made that tak­ing part in an il­le­gal meet­ing falls un­der that um­brella.

De­spite the meet­ing, Meadors vowed to con­tinue his dili­gence to­ward im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tion in New­ton County and vowed to stay the course.

“I plan to con­tinue to work hard, write well, vote ap­pro­pri­ately and rep­re­sent the vot­ers of Dis­trict 1 to­ward mak­ing NCSS a great sys­tem of which we can all be proud,” he said. “We have the hard­est work­ing teach­ers ever with an in­vet­er­ate pas­sion for their work. I want to sup­port them and their class­rooms as long as I am in this po­si­tion.”

The At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s of­fice “de­clined to com­ment on the specifics of this case with­out know­ing both sides of the case.”

Wil­liam Braw­ley /The Cov­ing­ton News

Mem­bers of the New­ton County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion dis­cuss busi­ness at a work ses­sion Thurs­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.