State Supreme Court rules that governor can’t yank school board members

The state Supreme Court has limited the governor’s ability to intervene in feuding and dysfunctional school boards.

Here is the official statement on the ruling:

The Georgia Supreme Court has unanimously reversed a Fulton County court decision and ruled that Georgia’s governor did not have the authority to remove from office three members of the Warren County Board of Education.

Official Code of Georgia §45-10-4 grants the governor authority to remove members of any “board, commission, or authority” created by statute who have violated the state’s code of ethics law. However, “county school boards are creations of the Constitution,” Justice P. Harris writes in today’s opinion:

“While appellees argue that administrative removal of members of constitutionally-created boards, commissions and authorities is a wise policy that is consistent with our Constitution, the wisdom of such a policy is not the issue,” the opinion says. “The General Assembly has simply not pursued such an avenue in [Official Code of Georgia] §45-10-3 and §45-10-4” – the statutes that establish a State Code of Ethics for boards, commissions and authorities, and provide a method for the governor to remove members if they violate that code.

In April 2010, a group of citizens filed a petition with then-Gov. Sonny Perdue asking him to remove Clara Roberts, Cecil Brown and Charles Culver for putting the Warren County School System’s accreditation in jeopardy. The three were members of the five-member Warren County school board. The year before, the parent company of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – an accrediting agency – had begun investigating the school system for violations of its standards for “governance and leadership.” The citizens filed their petition after a Special Review Team recommended that the school system’s accreditation be removed.

Following a two-day hearing, an administrative law judge recommended to the governor that he remove all three board members for breach of the public trust in violation of state law §45-10-3. On Aug. 6, 2010, Gov. Perdue issued an Executive Order removing all three from office. Less than a week later, the members filed a “Petition for Judicial Review” in Fulton County Superior Court, challenging the validity of the governor’s executive order. (After they filed their petition, Gov. Perdue was succeeded by Gov. Nathan Deal whose name is now on the case.) By the end of the month, the board appointed three new members to fill the vacancies. In January 2011, the superior court denied the petition to review the case of Roberts, Brown and Culver. They then appealed that denial to the state Supreme Court. Meanwhile, in June 2011, the school system was restored to full accreditation.

The Governor and citizens argued that this Court “should construe the term ‘boards, commissions, and authorities created by general statute expansively to include any and all such entities created by the Constitution.” But “we must construe the Code sections strictly,” today’s opinion says, noting that “the General Assembly is well aware of how to include members of county boards of education within the ambit of ethics legislation.”

43 comments Add your comment

Another view

March 19th, 2012
9:22 am

This is a good decision. The executive branch at the state level should not have the power to override local elections.

Then Change the Law; Impeach the Board

March 19th, 2012
9:45 am

Rather the governor step outside the law to handle a horrible school board, we need a better law for the citizens to boot out bad boards. We need to change the law so that we can change the dysfunctional board without waiting until the next election. Just as we can impeach the President of the US, we need to be able to impeach a school board member.
GM

Roach

March 19th, 2012
10:07 am

Bad case of powergrabus interruptus. The usual treatment involves a constitutional amendment, to put more control in the hands of a state legislature dominated by “small government” Republicans.

Sean

March 19th, 2012
10:19 am

Well, when there is a disfunctional school board and you feel powerless… Dont come crying

William Casey

March 19th, 2012
10:49 am

I understand the sentiment, Sean, but it’s not the governor’s role to fix school boards. I would like to find a way to use a grand jury.

Csoby

March 19th, 2012
10:55 am

Keeps power local and if the local government Educated fools do not have the guts to stand up and be counted, then they get waht they deserve

yes i am worried

March 19th, 2012
11:11 am

So sad for DeKalb’s children

carlosgvv

March 19th, 2012
11:12 am

What’s next? All those cheating teachers getting their jobs back?

Dr. John Trotter

March 19th, 2012
11:34 am

The Georgia Supreme Court was absolutely right in its ruling. The county boards of education were created by the Georgia Constitution and cannot be subject to the capricious whim of the Governor or others who may use private organizations like SACS to whip up hysteria when they do not have enough votes at the polls to remove school board members at the ballot box. The way to remove school board members is at the ballot box, not by the Governor’s fiat. I remember this Warren County case well and spoke out against it then just like I spoke out against the same action in Clayton County. I said then that neither the General Assembly nor the Governor had the right to remove duly elected officials to Constitutional boards because they deem their actions wrong or stupid. This is what the voting process for. The voters remove elected officials from office. Oligarchies be damned.

I hate to always have to say that I told you so but, once again, I told you so. I said the same thing about the Statewide Charter School Commission which created charter schools without going through the local school boards. Now, however, I believe that it will be on the ballot in the Fall for a Constitutional Amendment.

By the way, in the Warren County case, I recall now that someone told me that one of the persons who was pushing for these board members to be removed by the Governor was well-connected to this office. I don’t know if this is true or not, but this is usually how things happen. When you can’t beat people at the polls, get the Governor to remove them. Ha! Hey folks, it’s all about the cheddar. Someone in Warren County was having their cheddar (money) removed, don’t you think? Ha!

This was a good and wise decision and based on the Georgia Constitution, and I am proud of the Georgia Supreme Court. I am glad that Corporate Vigilantism has been put in check.

Dr. John Trotter

March 19th, 2012
11:35 am

@ Cosby: You said that it “keeps power local.” Good. That’s where it was intended to be kept. Close to the people.

Dr. John Trotter

March 19th, 2012
11:47 am

Hey Sean: It’s called politics and organizing your own votes. If you don’t have enough influence or know-how or willingness to work to get your own folks elected, then getting the Governor or others to circumvent the elected process for you is not the way to get it done…at least constitutionally speaking. If you are just so upset that you’d rather see the democratic process circumvented, then perhaps you really don’t appreciate the democratic process and may want to move out of the county — or country, for that matter — where you currently reside.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

March 19th, 2012
11:58 am

The ball’s in the legislature’s court.

Ron F.

March 19th, 2012
11:59 am

The governor was originally granted that right via legislation after the accreditation snafu in Clayton County, when residents all over the county were begging for intervention. While I don’t agree with that authority being so unilateral, if things get bad enough that the governor is asked to intervene, what does that tell you about the local situation? Thankfully this authority hasn’t had to be used very much.

No offense, Dr. T. I know this is an issue close to the heart for you.

Fred

March 19th, 2012
12:02 pm

Hopefully the citizens in DeKalb pay close attention to this decision. It not about whether you like or dislike the decision, it comes down to following the law.

DeKalb legislators such as Mike Jacobs circumvented local legislation by writing statewide legislation to change the make up of the DeKalb School Board. Not only did he bypass the local legislative representatives in passing the law in 2011, they just found out that legislators cannot change the term of elected officials. So its back to the drawing board to determine how to overcome the will of the people by elections.

Aren’t we seeing something similar in Cherokee County? I’m fearful of what some of these legislators are attempting to do to undermine public education.

Karen

March 19th, 2012
12:14 pm

Maybe the voters need to start doing their jobs!

skipper

March 19th, 2012
12:27 pm

Laugh if you want, but if they decided to let the Left-Handed-One-Eyed-Ethopian-Copilots Association take the place of that cluster at APS, it would be an improvement. I realize there is always the possibility of an abuse of power, but good heavens; Goofy would be an improvement! And Dr. John, if you are such a proponent then why not instead be a propronent for competant board members?

Once Again

March 19th, 2012
12:50 pm

Do yourselves a favor and go to http://www.theultimatehistorylesson.com and watch these powerful videos. You folks drone on and on about the petty dealings of the government school system while completely missing the point of what this system of schooling is so horrible or how it came into being. There is a famous quote that goes something like “if you get them asking the right questions, you never have to worry about the answers.” You folks are all asking the wrong questions, and your children are paying dearly.

say what?

March 19th, 2012
1:08 pm

Folks unhappy in DeKalb must not pay attention to the policy changes proposed then voted by the BOE. Recently Dr. Atkinson got the BOE to approved her new policy that she be in control, that they will go through her to address the media, and they will get approval from her/her office before entering schools.These two policies will decrease the chances of the BOE members going into schools causing a raucus and meddling in day to day operations.
Back to the voting people out of office- Apathetic voters need to get involved. Stop being controlled by the media and wanting an uprising only when the media tells you to through its news stories. Get involved, stay involved, and get your neighbor to get involved before problems fester and lead the local news at 6pm. Know the truth before the news story of every bit of 2:30seconds decimates your community. Get involved and stop assuming that somebody else will.

My mom has no children or grandchildren in her local school system, yet she attends school board meetings to see what is being done on behalf of the taxpayer.

Beverly Fraud

March 19th, 2012
1:09 pm

Not a good day for tin hat despots. Nor for Mark Elgart and SACS.

Or is that being redundant?

Fred

March 19th, 2012
1:20 pm

say what?, do you have the policy number? While most would consider what you mentioned as common sense, I can see what a policy was created. I wonder about this because the Board is the employer not the employee of the superintendent.

I agree with what you and Karen both said, too many citizens are not doing their jobs by getting involved. When you consider that a majority of the property taxes are paid go to support local public schools, one would think there would be greater involvement by citizens to make sure the right people were elected to oversee the process and ask the right questions.

Beverly Fraud

March 19th, 2012
2:12 pm

“The governor was originally granted that right via legislation after the accreditation snafu in Clayton County, when residents all over the county were begging for intervention.”

Yes Ron they were begging, (very little can be said in a positive light about the majority of that particular board) but at the same time they hadn’t a clue SACS came for a POLITICAL POWER PLAY, not for any benefit of students.

SACS showed their TRUE colors on that a couple of years later by being COMPLETELY silent on the cheating, only showing up for yet ANOTHER political power play when Reed and others couldn’t talk a LEGALLY (so said the judge) board chair from resigning.

Their excuse? It happened in the elementary schools, but the AJC blew THAT out of the water with their expose on cheating at the high school level. And SACS comment on THAT? (Birds whistling)

As stated, bad day for tin hat despots.

Dr. John Trotter

March 19th, 2012
2:16 pm

@ Ron and Skipper: What is close to my heart is constitutional law. I can deal with the politics of the situation. The constitution cannot guarantee that the smartest or the most competent people will be elected. Heck, look at the Georgia General Assembly. Most are professional and competent but we also have some doozies over there. But, you don’t do away with constitutional principles and constitutional government because some folks are not as smart or as professional or as competent as you would like. You just go to the polls and vote for someone else or you move to another locale. You don’t do away with the elective process.

Clayton County was SACS’s first large “take-over” wherein it scared the daylights out of the residents. The residents were not against the school board members until this private, money-grabbing company, SACS, whipped the county up into a false hysteria. The SACS Report in Clayton County was a complete joke. Norreese Haynes stated it best the day that it came out: “It’s a sham and a farce.” I have stated on many, many occasions that I will debate Mark Elgart any time and any place in Georgia about SACS’s capricious and arbitrary application of its so-called “standards.” To this day, Mark Elgart has never taken me up on the offer.

Jefferson

March 19th, 2012
2:28 pm

A good dictator is what GA needs, problem is every now & then a bad one comes to power… :)

Beverly Fraud

March 19th, 2012
2:46 pm

Not saying there were holes in the SACS Clayton “report” (or the APS one for that matter) but rumor has it the Swiss now refer to their Emmental cheese (the one we call ‘Swiss’) as Elgart cheese.

Ron F.

March 19th, 2012
2:53 pm

“but at the same time they hadn’t a clue SACS came for a POLITICAL POWER PLAY, not for any benefit of students.”

Bev: The politics and power-plays were deeply entrenched by that point and CCPS got called on it by SACS. Not that I support SACS work- that was the “pot calling the kettle black” perhaps. As a survivor of that school system, I can attest to the fact that the BOE shenanigans began long before SACS showed up and those issues ran off a lot of very devoted, very qualified educators.

catlady

March 19th, 2012
3:06 pm

Local control should be paramount. Neither SACS nor the gov should step over the voters, no matter how idiotic!

Beverly Fraud

March 19th, 2012
3:19 pm

Catlady,

Georgia voters-idiotic?

I don’t get the connection LOL

Tony

March 19th, 2012
3:33 pm

I guess the infinitely wise legislature will propose another constitutional amendment to get their way.

Hillbilly D

March 19th, 2012
3:43 pm

This is a good decision. in my opinion.

Just A Teacher

March 19th, 2012
3:51 pm

If you don’t like your school board, vote them out of office. The same thing can be said about your governor. I think the court got this one right. If you give the governor the right to remove another elected official, you are clearing the way for cronyism. In other words, the governor could say “If you want to be on your local board of education, you need to do exactly as I say, or I will find someone who will!”

bu2

March 19th, 2012
4:07 pm

The state is providing much of the funding and is ultimately responsible for education in this state. If the school district is failing like in Clayton County, they should have the right to remove it. What is disturbing about Warren County is that they only replaced selected board members. It should be all or nothing.

Dr. John Trotter

March 19th, 2012
4:09 pm

@ Ron F: I am just curious. Could you name just one concrete shenanigan to which you made reference? Two might be even more enlightening. I hear people make statements like you made, but I have been waiting a long time for something concrete…besides firing Dan Colwell as superintendent.

Dr. John Trotter

March 19th, 2012
4:22 pm

By the way, Ron, let’s limit this to “shenanigans” prior to SAC’s involvement…like the “shenanigan” of Chairperson Ericka Davis and Vice Chairperson Johnson (I can’t even remember his first name now) losing power. Rod, yes, this is he name. How we soon forget.

td

March 19th, 2012
4:27 pm

The SC issued the correct decision. Unless there is corruption, then the only people that should be able to remove an elected official is the voters that put him/her in office. The voters need to take the responsibility for the ones they vote for and suffer the consequences for making unwise decisions.

Dr. John Trotter

March 19th, 2012
4:55 pm

Sorry about the “SAC.” It should have been “SACS.” What does this stand for? Still Advocating for Cronies and Shills…like Ericka Davis, Rod Johnson, and Eldrin Bell in the case of Clayton County? When you are losing power, you know what you do, don’t you? You call your buddy Mark Elgart at SACS. He’ll come to your rescue and have the community all up in arms over a bunch about nothing…except their fear that their babies are going to miss out of the HOPE. It’s all about the cheddar, baby, all about the cheddar. I am primarily talking about which politician or well-connected person in the community is selling all of the insurance — guaranteed life for all the employees, property (buildings, buses, tractors, etc.), etc. — to the school system. A change in the power structure on the school board could change the friendly business eco-system for certain ones in the county. Help! Quickly! Call Mark Elgart and SACS! Yes, Still Advocating for Cronies and Shills (SACS)!

skipper

March 19th, 2012
5:22 pm

Thats the problem about voting them out of office…..incompetant voters will put incompetant people in! Of course the right to vote is and should be the way it is….FOR everybody! However, especially in the APS system, voters will put doofuses in because” they’re one of us” and qualifications be darned! The system is a cluster, and whether you are black, white, latino, asian, etc. if you cannot see that then go back to the mud puddle you climbed out of!

Ron F.

March 19th, 2012
5:30 pm

Dr. T- The constant bickering of the Clatyon BOE has been well-hashed here and elsewhere. In my opinion, the worst work they did was to hire a string of increasingly inept superintendents and offer them bigger and bigger salaries, so they could end up firing them and paying out said contracts. Nothing the BOE did from about ‘99 on was positive. There were far too many influences, inside and outside, that kept the bickering going. The sins are easy to see in retrospect, as is the fact that the entire mess helped propel the legislation along which gave the governor far too much authority. I’m just glad for two things: 1- the court took that power away, and 2- I don’t work in CCPS any more.

Dr. John Trotter

March 19th, 2012
7:40 pm

@ Ron F. – I am still looking for some concrete “shenanigans” which were illegal, not some editorial opinions that the school board should have held hands and sang Kum Ba Ya. Yes, I thought it must have had something to do with the choice of superintendents, viz., the firing of Dan Colwell. I must be a sage, right? Ha! Nothing concrete…just “constant bickering” (like other elective bodies do…perhaps like the U. S. Congress — but you are not ready to do away with that, are you?) and its choice of superintendents.

I too disagreed with the school board’s choice of superintendents…from William Chavis, Barbara Pulliam (a disaster from Minnesota whom Ericka Davis led the charge for and then later led the charge against), the Thompson fellow (another disaster from Pittsburgh whom I spoke out against in this newspaper before the school board hired him), and Edmond Heatley (whom MACE picketed the board about its impending choice of this most unpopular superintendent of all time in Clayton — and I spoke out against the board’s choice of him in this newspaper and other newspapers as well as in an interview on TV). Yep, the Clayton School Board has made some terrible choices for superintendent. Ericka Davis, like I said, led the charge for Barbara Pulliam (very unpopular) and Pam Adamson and Alieka Anderson led the charge for Edmond Heatley (the most unpopular of all time, in my opinion).

I suspect your biggest gripe is the fact that in January of 2003, this school board got rid of Dan Colwell. It should have gotten rid of Dan Colwell. I personally witnessed him be very ugly to sitting school board members. The school board was his boss. So, when the new school board members were elected, there was not much chance that Colwell was going to hold on.

So, I see that nothing concrete has been offered up. Just the same ole editorial with bland generalities. But, it is an object to show that SACS was employed in Clayton for no good reason but to try to help those who were losing power to stay in power. Also, keep in mind that Thompson and Heatley were hired after SACS got involved. With friends like Mark Elgart and Glenn Brock (who brought Heatley to the school board), school boards don’t need any enemies. After SACS invasion and occupation of Clayton County, this county has gone down precipitously, and I don’t blame you, Ron F., for getting the heck out of Clayton. I did the same thing. But, keep always in mind, that all of hoopla of SACS and accreditation and the bringing of Attorney Glenn Brock was just about the money. It’s all about the cheddar, baby, all about the money.

Angela Palm

March 19th, 2012
9:40 pm

This decision on the method used to remove the Warren board members should not be confused with the Governor’s ability to remove school board members in general.

Gov. Perdue used the statute cited to remove selected board members from the Warren and Clayton boards. Gov. Barnes used it to remove a board member from Griffin-Spalding.

In 2010, the General Assembly passed SB 84 which included authorizing the Gov to remove an entire school board due to the decision of an accrediting agency and the recommendation of the State Board. So for those of you who think the Gov should be able to remove board members, there is one.

Ironically, when arguing for the passage of SB 84, the Governor’s staff said the Gov had no ability to intervene unless the bill was passed. They never recognized the use of the statute in question unless forced to and then said it took too long.

For those who think it should be easier to remove school board members, GSBA suggested the recall law be amended instead of the SB 84 method mentioned above. If the recall provision is broken, as those pushing the Gov.’s removing school board members said, then we felt the General Assembly had an obligation to fix it so the voters could take care of business. Nobody was interested in that option.

It may be easier and/or faster to let somebody else do the dirty work, but we the people lose something every time we kick decisions up to the next level.

Ron F.

March 19th, 2012
10:23 pm

Dr. T- I didn’t care if they fired Colwell. Didn’t know the man, wouldn’t recognize him if I ran into him on the street, didn’t see anything all that great in his tenure. I left because the BOE was in a mess, and the system was falling apart. Bickering and debate are part of the process, but the level of bickering, the factions that formed within the board, and the failure to actually serve the very people who voted them in were too much for me. As you point out so very often, they were all part of the problem and they ran off a lot of very good teachers. The only good to come out of that mess was that Henry and Fayette got a lot of really good teachers.

That, sir, was my only point. You don’t have to be a sage to understand it. I state an opinion, based on my experience, and usually state it fairly directly and simply. And I stand by that opinion. I didn’t mean to hit a nerve.

Mr. Right

March 19th, 2012
11:45 pm

The supreme court definitely made the right decision! Today I can finally say I am a believer of the justice system.

Dr. John Trotter

March 20th, 2012
12:32 am

@ Ron F.: You make very good points. The state of affairs in the Clayton County School System is the worst that it has ever been. Student discipline is out of control, and the teachers have virtually no support from the administrators. I have a son who graduated last year from the Fayette County School System and one son who will graduate there next year. I would not dare allow them to matriculate through the Clayton County School System because the shape that it is now in. You are right. Many good teachers in Clayton County left for Fayette County and Henry County where support is stronger. My point was that when Ericka Davis and Rod Johnson called in SACS (with, I think, the help of Eldrin Bell), this was done for political reasons and not because the school board as a whole was micromanaging the system. In fact, Ericka Davis was by far the worst micromanager, and I have a copious number of her emails to prove it. Norreese Haynes documented this for SACS, and SACS just observed the “pass-over.” Same thing for Rod Johnson. The whole SACS thing was simply a hatchet job, trying to help Ericka and Rod, but they could not be helped because they were knee-deep in micromanaging. But, Mark Elgart and SACS ignored their egregious violations of SACS’s so-called standards and wrote a half-baked-full-of-errors report which ignored the worst violators of micromanaging, Ericka Davis and Rod Johnson. Davis stepped down disgracefully and Rod, after promising to step down, was removed illegally by the Governor. Even though Rod was full of micromanaging (even sitting in on the Superintendent’s cabinet meeting and personally hiring a former Jonesboro Police Officer with a checkered past to be the top security guy in the school system), it still would have been better for him to have stood before the voters at the next election. I think that he is now in Florida.

Yes, at one time Clayton County was a good school system in which to teach. There was good discipline and an orderly learning environment where teachers were supported and appreciated. Not anymore. The precipitous change for the worse took place after SACS got involved. This is one of the major points I was trying to make. I don’t think that you and I are too far apart on this issue.

jamie

March 22nd, 2012
1:08 pm

Just Tuesday, the State Board of Ed. recommended that the entire Miller Co. BOE be removed. The Local voters elected two news BOE members in 2010, to get rid of the out of county, inexperienced, superintendent that was hired prior to the new members taking office. This superintendent is hated by the community, and the other three BOE members vote yes on anything he wants. This superintendent called SACS on its board, saying that two members were keeping him from doing his job. He can’t do his job. He has the computer guy and the bookkeeper doing it, including going all over the state to budget meetings. He has lied constantly about the two new B OE members, so now the State Board of Ed. wants thems off. They were concerned with the facts, or the newspaper articles, or interviews with teachers and students. He has the full support of the other three, they had rather go down than to firef him like two different board attorneys told them to do. What a joke the State Board are. The state appointed mediator even recommended that the voters be allowed to exercise their right to vote and vote the 3 members out of office, but NO. What do you think the governor will do.