Posters asked some good questions on the funding of the litigation by suspended board members. I sent some of questions to the three standing board members of DeKalb and have already posted the responses from Jim McMahan and Marshall Orson on the blog.
This morning I heard from the DeKalb board Chair Melvin Johnson.
None of the three has been particularly forthcoming on the issue of how and why the board approved the contract with Decatur attorney Bob Wilson’s firm, who voted for it and whether they support continuing it. Did they approve open-ended funding of ongoing and escalating litigation or was the intent to pay for representation primarily at the state Board of Education hearing?
The AJC continues to look at the circumstances under which the DeKalb school board approved the money for this legal challenge as there are a lot of questions about whether it met Sunshine law requirements. I believe DeKalb needs a serious refresher course in what permits them to duck behind closed doors, a point raised by several state board members after hearing that DeKalb shut the public out of its discussion around hiring another law firm, McKenna Long & Aldridge, for $150,000 to provide governance training. One state board member commended that DeKalb seems to follow a different interpretation of the open meetings law than the rest of the state.
About that contract: Board member Marshall Orson told me in an email: “Yes, it’s pricey and more than I would like us to spend. But, it’s about a lot more than training nine members of the Board of Education. Characterizing it that way misses the point — we have a broken governance system. Not just the Board but at the Central Office, between the Board and the Central Office and, perhaps most importantly, between the Central Office and the schoolhouse.”
Orson also corrected a Get Schooled poster who said that Orson was the one who “found MLA and reached out to them.”
“I did not say that… I did say they were experts in governance and were engaged by significant corporate and government entities for their expertise,” said Orson.
(On this issue, DeKalb taxpayers ought to ask some tough questions of a board that contends it will be data-driven and careful in its spending given the district’s financial distress: Where is the evidence that the governance training by the law firm is superior to what is offered by far cheaper sources? Show taxpayers proof the results will be superior. Why not try the training through school boards associations and groups and then decide if more training is needed before hiring an expensive firm?)
Now, the readers’ questions that I sent Melvin Johnson:
Can you explain if you are still paying the legal bills for the suspended six and when that will stop? In a closed meeting around the end of February, the then DeKalb Board voted to hire legal representation for defense against suspension. 1. From what account were these funds authorized? 2. Now that a Federal judge has upheld the Governor’s authority to suspend 6 of the nine board members, is that defense cost authorization still valid? 3. Is Mr. Walker the only suspended board member who intends to pursue resolution through the court system? Other members have not been so very vocal. If Mr. Walker continues without the others, does that invalidate the vote of the nine member board taken in February relative to funds allocation?
Thank you for your questions. As you are aware, at the present time, there are only three members of the Board of Education who have not been suspended by the Governor. Because the non-suspended members do not constitute a quorum, the Board is not able to act as a whole at this time.
Accordingly, any decisions to be made at the Board level regarding the pending litigation or other matters must await the appointment of temporary replacement members by the Governor. In terms of the intentions or plans of the suspended Board members, that is a question that should be addressed to them.
Regarding Legal fees, they will be paid from the legal fund.
Finally, without commenting on any specific matters, and speaking for myself only, I certainly support the development and implementation of a strategy to reduce legal expenditures for the School District, and look forward to working with the Board to do so.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog