WARRENTON, Ga. - Three controversial school board members in Warren County were removed from their elected offices in action handed down by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue on Friday afternoon.
The three school board members include Clara B. Roberts, Cecil Brown and Dr. Charles Culver. At one time, Roberts and Brown held the positions as chairwoman and vice-chairman, respectively, of the school board. Culver is a former school superintendent in the tiny three-school system which has a little less than 800 students.
A nine-member citizens' group from Warren County had called for the governor to remove the three school board members for a variety of reasons -- one being breach of public trust.
It marks the first time in the history of the state that a governor has actually removed sitting school board members. Two years ago in Clayton County, similar action was averted when school board members resigned as opposed to being removed by Gov. Perdue because of controversial votes and action that stripped that school system of its SACS accreditation.
As it now stands, Gwendolyn Tucker and Randy Morris, both of whom serve as chairwoman and vice-chairman, respectively, are the only officially recognized members of the Warren County Board of Education.
In a press release issued Friday, Gov. Perdue said he agreed with a recent recommendation from Administrative Law Judge John B. Gatto that the three school board members needed to be removed from office.
Gov. Perdue cited the following grounds for his action:
Mrs. Roberts made discriminatory comments in violation of federal law; and refused to sign the Warren County Board of Education's Code of Ethics Policy;
Mr. Brown made discriminatory comments and refused to sign the school board's ethics policy; and
Dr. Culver refused to sign the school board's ethics policy.
Gov. Perdue's action met criticism from the attorney representing Roberts, Brown and Culver, E. Brian Watkins, of Atlanta.
"The governor's removal of my clients from office was done by means to draw as little attention as possible: On a Friday afternoon," Watkins told The McDuffie Mirror . "Moreover, removal of my clients is most disappointing and deeply troubling to our form of representative government in that the governor has overturned the will of the voters of Warren County. The reasons given for removal are even more disappointing, especially when less drastic sanctions were available. The case must and will be appealed."
Mr. Watkins said it appeared to him that Gov. Perdue "was held hostage by the implication that SACS extended Warren County's accreditation, but reserved the right to revoke accreditation, in anticipation of the governor removing my clients from office."
He called the governor's action "drastic and excessive" especially as it pertains to Dr. Culver.
"The governor stated that Culver was removed simply because he refused to sign an ethics pledge and then tried to have it changed," Mr. Watkins said. "First, there has been absolutely no showing that Culver's refusal to sign the policy was as a cover for other legal or ethical violations or that the workings of the board of education, the superintendent's office or the education of students was affected. Second, as members of the board, my clients had the absolute right to change the ethics policy and relied upon the superintendent that the governor was to issue a standard ethics policy for school boards."
Mr Watkins said to remove Mrs. Roberts and Mr. Brown, "because of their asserted discriminatory statements, even if true, is government censorship."
He claimed that Judge Gatto exonerated his clients and dismissed the claims of discriminatory employment actions. However, the judge only dismissed such allegations against Dr. Culver. He left intact the discriminatory practices involving Mrs. Roberts and Mr. Brown in place for consideration when it came time for him to make his recommendation back to Gov. Perdue.
Rob Fortson, one of three attorneys for the citizens' group, meanwhile, said in an e-mail response:
"Our clients are thankful that the governor has brought closure to this troubled chapter in the Warren County School Board's history. School board members are trustees for the entire school system and these individuals breached that trust through their actions. We are hopeful that the school system and the new school board will now be able to work cooperatively with SACS and minimize the negative impact on Warren County students."