UPDATED MONDAY: Thanks to tips from Get Schooled posters, the AJC is looking into the arrest records of other DeKalb school board candidates. After checking out his arrest in 2006 and his mugshot, I have asked Corey Wilson for a statement about the arrest. I will post if he sends me one. Otherwise, I will post a link to the news story once it is online.
Is an elected official’s wrongdoing 30 years ago relevant today? That has to be the question DeKalb voters are asking after the AJC story today about incumbent District 5 school board member Jesse “Jay” Cunningham’s arrest in 1982 for stealing $12,500 from a McDonald’s he managed. At the time, he was 23, old enough to know better.
But a lot can happen to a person in 30 years, so I am not sure voters will be swayed, especially those who believe in redemption and second chances. (I will be honest; I am not one of those folks. I would be concerned as a voter.)
The lengthy news story also looks at several recent complaints against Cunningham for violent or threatening behavior. Those incidents may be of greater concern to voters, who expect school board members to be role models for students.
Under Georgia’s first offender law, Cunningham pleaded guilty in 1982 to stealing bank deposits from a Decatur McDonald’s. He was sentenced to six years probation. He would not talk to the AJC about the offense, but his attorney Dwight Thomas did:
“He pleaded guilty to theft by taking under the First Offender Act,” Thomas said. “State law says when you are under the First Offender Act, you can say ‘no, I’m not a convicted felon’ on job applications and other records.”
In the more recent allegations, Cunningham was accused in 2008 by a male friend of his wife of punching the man in the head outside a church on one occasion and of pulling a gun on the man on another occasion. In a separate allegation, a DeKalb school parent told police she believed Cunningham threatened her at a meeting of cheerleading boosters in 2009. Police wrote reports on all three of the alleged incidents — the reports were obtained by the AJC — but Cunningham was not charged in any of them.
Attorney Thomas said the reported incidents are just accusations and prove nothing.
“People can get accused of a lot of things and can be falsely accused of a lot of things,” Thomas said. “Until you’re convicted by a jury or judge, it’s totally irrelevant.”
In seeking re-election, Cunningham seems to have community support, but he did not win the endorsement of either the DeKalb teachers’ group or a newly formed organization of community and business leaders. The Organization of DeKalb Educators and Chamber of Commerce school group eduKalb instead endorsed Highlands College director Kirk Nooks.
Are these news reports enough to cost him the election? Should they?