A brewing fight over ethics legislation, as applied to DeKalb County

It looks like last year’s feud within DeKalb County’s ranks will continue at the state Capitol this session. The following note from Eugene Walker, a member of the DeKalb County Board of Education, is making the rounds.

The ethics bill he refers to is H.B. 888, sponsored by state Rep. Kevin Levitas (D-Atlanta).

To wit:

More often than not, when there is a political ax to grind, the unforeseen collateral damages harm a far greater number of people than the originally intended target.

Take state Rep. Mike Jacobs, for example. Angry with former CEO Vernon Jones and myself, this Republican lawmaker sought to legislatively exact political revenge. He convinced the Georgia General Assembly to pass a law that only affected the Development Authority of DeKalb County.

The Development Authority of DeKalb County used to bring in hundreds of millions in new investment and thousands of jobs every year. No more. Thanks to Mike Jacobs’ law, the Development Authority of DeKalb County can no longer do that. Companies seeking to relocate simply consider other metro areas. Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett couldn’t be happier, as they capitalize on DeKalb’s petty politicking.

But the lesson has not been learned. Now comes state Rep. Kevin Levitas who, with disgruntled school board member Paul Womack, wants to create a special set of ethics laws that apply only to the DeKalb County school board and nowhere else.

Among other things, this would preclude a part-time school board member from serving on another board. I used to be the chair of the Development Authority of DeKalb County, but I have since resigned. The Atlanta Development Authority proudly seats an Atlanta School Board member in its ranks. Why would it be unethical for this arrangement to exist in DeKalb County , but not Atlanta ?

[Moreover], why would any ethics law not be good enough to be applied statewide? Furthermore, if any new ethics law is appropriate for School Boards in general, would it not be good enough for the entire Georgia General Assembly? Given its recent history, I might recommend that Mr. Levitas clean his own house first.

Please understand: I support guidelines that ensure honesty and integrity throughout the public sector. But Mr. Levitas’ current proposal is really not about that at all. His proposal, like Jacobs’ law before it, is just the latest salvo of political infighting. The real tragedy is if it is passed, and it places the DeKalb schools in a compromising situation relative to other school systems, it’s the children who will suffer – not the politicians.

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14 comments Add your comment

Doh!

January 27th, 2010
11:33 am

He does have a point. The General Assembly should get its act together and pass a tough ethics bill before considering the ethics of others.

Georgian

January 27th, 2010
11:44 am

shame of these petty politics. ethics reform should apply to all, not just a few.

Mr. Grumpy

January 27th, 2010
12:25 pm

Maybe the reason Jacobs’s and Levitas’s bills were aimed at problems occurring under Mr. Walker’s chairmanship of the DeKalb Development Authority. Did he have authority by virtue of his chairmanship to approve or disapprove proposals affecting DeKalb County Schools and its capital improvements plans? If so, there is a clear conflict of interests that Mr. Walker apparently doesn’t see or refuses to see or sees but couldn’t care less. That was a lot of power to have in the hands of someone whose tenure at the Department of Juvenile Justice proved he was in over his head and who practically ran that agency into the ground. So, Wah, Wah, Wah, Mr. Walker !!!!

marcel

January 27th, 2010
12:34 pm

Mr. Walker is right about Mr. Levitas. My mom used to always say “What’s good for the geese is good for the gander”. Those guys and gals down at the Capitol are an absolute joke. They all need to sweep around their own front doors, before they try to sweep around some other person, board or commissions door.

bl

January 27th, 2010
12:48 pm

The DeKalb County School System apparently is (rightfully) in the legislature’s crosshairs. State Rep. Ed Rynders just authored a bill, H.B. 977, that states, “If any local board of education furloughs teachers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, support staff, or other non-administrative positions during any school year, such local board of education shall not use any state funds to provide a salary increase for the local school superintendent or administrators during such school year.” After requiring our poor DeKalb teachers to make sacrifice after sacrifice, our esteemed Board of Education awarded Superintendent Crawford Lewis a $15,000 raise plus a large increase to his expense account. Sickening.

Mr. Grumpy

January 27th, 2010
12:57 pm

bl — you’re right on target! Lewis’s acceptance of the $15,000 pay increase shows him to be a man of either a greedy nature or possessing no sensitivity at all to what his teachers are having to give up. Trust me, he won’t go hungry or fail to pay bills. But many of these furloughed teachers and other school employees will.

Joe

January 27th, 2010
3:25 pm

Mr. Grumpy – Government has absolutely no business operating schools, aka “government indoctrination centers”. What kind of ignorant fool has any empathy for government employed teachers? Unless they were deaf, dumb, and blind, those whiny teachers were well-aware of what they were in for long before they ever went to work. Go ahead, make your case until you’re sitting in a nursing home talking to yourself, you know I’m correct. The sooner the foolish government gets out of the business of education, the better!

Thoughtful

January 27th, 2010
3:50 pm

Joe: Until the state changes its constitution it is in the business of education. While where at it. They are public schools. You and I indirectly run them and pay for them. If you have an issue, get involved and fix them.

Article VIII, Section I:
The provision of an adequate public education for the citizens shall be a primary obligation of the State of Georgia. Public education for the citizens prior to the college or postsecondary level shall be free and shall be provided for by taxation. The expense of other public education shall be provided for in such manner and in such amount as may be provided by law.

Aaron Burr V. Mexico

January 27th, 2010
5:19 pm

Yeah Joe, Government is bad! Government should not regulate anything!

Like Banks.
Like Enron.
Like Blackwater.

Screw evil commie government beuracrats! They take our taxes so they should be our slaves!

Of course, since you believe that, I favor a constitutional amendment taking the money specifically from the most conservative of people; the more conservative you are, the more you pay.

But obviously no one is going to agree with that…but the point remains…simply arbitrarily targeting someone to be your slave just because they work for the government or believing in the magical market fairy is just stupid.

Like you.

Bob Miles

January 27th, 2010
5:27 pm

It is absolutely shameful that DeKalb School Superintendent Lewis has demonsrated that he is a greedy, selfish, insentitive and incompetent leader who cares nothing of the suffering of his teachers and other school employees during this economic trend. He has the audacity to believe and act as though he is too good to make any sacrifice by accepting a 15,000.00 pay increase while requiring others to sacrifice. I believe that the School Board’s schemes and incompetence is to blame for the financial woes. It is my opinion that this Board has been the most embarassing sector of DeKalb county during the past15 of my 30 years as a DeKalb citizen.

Name One

January 27th, 2010
5:42 pm

If you follow the DeKalb Schools Board of Ed and Superintendent, you’d know that Levitas’ legislation is well needed. Go to http://dekalbschoolwatch.blogspot.com/, and there’s stroy after story about school system mismanagement and poor ethical decision making.

Joe

January 27th, 2010
9:55 pm

Hopefully this legislation will be past. Levitas legislature is needed in many school boards across the state.

Mr. Grumpy

January 28th, 2010
9:11 am

Hey, Joe, get with it. “Government indoctrination centers.” Oh, really. Where exactly should children get their education, from right-wing nut-jobs like you? You obviously know nothing about education, teaching or teachers. You’re probably not competent to do it, but you ought to try educating children. For those of us who know teachers or whio are married to one, we know what kind of time they have to put in daily and nightly to be sure your kids read something more enlightening than “The Militia Quarterly.” You must listen a lot to Neal Boortz.

Yeah, we’d all be better off if government stayed out of our lives, right? Let’s close the schools (these “government indoctrination centers”), and put the kids to work in sweat-shops. Let’s get rid of all those pesky traffic lights and traffic signals. In fact, let’s just get rid of the health department,too, and have trust that the unfettered free enterprise system will assure us that restaurants will serve us healthy food. What else can we get rid of?

But, yeah, let’s start with the “government indoctrination centers.” We can replace them with schools run by churches and religious groups who won’t indoctrinate them. And we can get government vouchers from tax monies collected from taxpayers who may not share my religious views but who ought to pay anyway for the personal and private choices I make for my kids. That’s fair, right?

Chuckl

February 1st, 2010
9:47 pm

Open.georgia.gov Here you will find the salary of any state employee. Dr. Lewis has been saying he makes 255000 when the state reported he made somewhere near 287000 plus almost 10000 in travel in yr 09. Why hasn’t anyone brought this up?