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Warren county residents urge governor to remove three school board members

WARRENTON, Ga. -- A group of Warren County residents has asked Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to remove three Warren County Board of Education members from their elected positions.

A formal complaint was filed last month to remove Clara B. Roberts, Cecil Brown and Dr. Charles Culver from the five-member school panel. Mrs. Roberts is the former school board chairwoman.

The names of two other school board members, current Chairwoman Gwendolyn Tucker and vice-chairman Randy Morris were not mentioned in the legal action.

Gov. Perdue has now requested an Administrative Law judge look into the allegations and evidence submitted in the complaint. Warren Schools Superintendent Carole Jean Carey said law requires the judge hold the petition for 30-45 days before a hearing is held. Gov. Perdue will base his decision on findings of the hearing.

According to a legal document obtained by The McDuffie Mirror, those filing the complaint include: Bailey Cosby, Arthur Downs, Waldermar and Patricia Hambsch, Rochelle Hanna, John and Carolyn Martin, Cortez Wentz and Lisa Wilcher.

The group alleges that Mrs. Roberts, Mr. Brown and Dr. Culver, who once served as school superintendent of the Warren County School System, "have committed certain violations of the laws of the State of Georgia, which authorizes the governor to remove them from office and to prohibit them from serving in that capacity under any circumstances," records show.

The group is represented by Judson H. Turner, Charles L. Bachman and Robert L. Fortson, of the law firm of Turner, Bachman & Garrett, LLC in Marietta.

The group filed a number of allegations, including discriminatory hiring.

Specifically, the group contends that the three school board members "breached these provisions by making personnel decisions based on the color, race and/or age of candidates" recommended by Warren County School Superintendent Carole Jean Carey "rather than the candidate's qualifications."

During an April 2007 school board meeting, Mrs. Carey recommended a new Spanish teacher.

Mrs. Roberts reportedly objected to hiring that teacher, contending he could not relate to most Warren County students. She suggested, according to the records, "Most of our students probably can't even pronounce his name."

The teacher subsequently was hired despite Mrs. Roberts casting a vote against him. The other four school board members approved of his hiring.

In her first two years on the school board, Mrs. Roberts "demonstrated a pattern of either voting against or abstaining from voting on white teachers recommended by Mrs. Carey without providing any legitimate explanation," according to the complaint, which cited names of two teachers.

In January 2009, Mr. Brown and Dr. Culver were elected to the school board. During the first meeting of the New Year, Mrs. Roberts was voted chairwoman, while Mr. Brown was vice-chairman. The votes for both of those positions passed 3-2 -- the opposing votes being cast by Mrs. Tucker and Mr. Morris.

Other contentions on the complaint involve Mrs. Roberts, Mr. Brown and Dr. Culver attempting to "disguise their bias by providing dishonest and pre-textual reasons" for voting against white teachers recommended for hire by Mrs. Carey. Several instances were listed.

The group also cites violations involving Georgia Open Meetings Act.

"Purportedly, respondents (Mrs. Roberts, Mr. Brown and Dr. Culver) have convened in executive session in order to discuss hiring decisions for personnel at the school system," records reveal. "In these executive sessions (meetings whereby the public cannot attend) respondents violated the provisions of the Open Meetings Act by considering inappropriate factors and having improper discussions regarding certain hiring candidates."

That particular law states: "Prior to any meeting, the agency holding such meeting shall make available an agenda of all matters expected to come before the agency at such meeting. The agenda shall be available upon request and shall be posted at the meeting site, as far as in advance of the meeting as reasonably some time during the two-week period immediately prior to the meeting."

At a January meeting this year, Mrs. Roberts, Mr. Brown and Dr. Culver added an item to the agenda regarding alternative accreditation "even though respondents knew in advance that they intended for this item to be on the agenda."

The group of residents contend the actions those three school board members took "constituted an intentional violation" of the requirements of the Georgia Open Meetings Act, according to the record.

Residents also accuse those three school board members of other breaches of public trust, including micro-management of the school system. The residents contend that these respondents have visited classrooms, met with school staff and interrupted instructional time to speak with students -- violating school board policy.

Other allegation include abstaining from board votes, refusal to sign ethics pledge and violation of SACS' policies and procedures.

In June 2009, SACS officials conducted an on-site investigation of the school system. The probe included interviews with all five members of the school board, as well as Mrs. Carey, members of the school system's staff and community members.

The SACS Special Review Team recommended that the accreditation of the Warren County School System be revoked on July 30 of this year due to misgovernance of the board.

Board members subsequently have met with officials to work out a plan of compliance with SACS standards and are documenting supportive evidence.

Mrs. Carey said the complaint filed with the governor has nothing to do with the SACS accreditation, but she does not know how it could be impacted.

"We are just continuing to move forward to show that we are working together," she said.

Web posted on Thursday, May 27, 2010

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