The Georgia Supreme Court has unanimously overturned Gov. Sonny Perdue’s 2010 decision to remove three members of the Warren County school board in east Georgia, while it was in the midst of an accreditation crisis.
The governor can remove members of a constitutionally mandated board if they violate the state’s ethics law – but not simply because they’re dysfunctional.
Look for this one to have implications for other school boards under scrutiny. A summary of the just-released decision:
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.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider