The McDuffie County Board of Education held a called meeting last Friday afternoon in the board room of the Central Offices to "hear a financial report from system Comptroller Tom Smalley."
However, a financial report was not given. Instead, Mr. Smalley said he wanted to answer questions that were raised at an Oct. 25 political forum held at the Depot. In the forum, political candidates in contested races gave answers to questions they had not previously heard.
Board of education candidates Kelly Evans and incumbent vice-chairman Rick McCorkle gave their thoughts on SPLOST spending regarding The Brickyard renovations, open government, the two biggest issues of the school system and how they would deal with more revenue cuts from the state.
Mrs. Evans said she thinks the BOE should have a long-term, comprehensive plan for all SPLOST projects. She told of recent audit findings that concerned her because the school board was making big decisions such as furloughing teachers when they were working on an audit that revealed funds listed in the wrong account, and she said a detailed copy of the budget should be easily accessible to the public.
Mr. McCorkle was given rebuttal time after each of Mrs. Evans's statements. On three of those instances, he began by saying, "I agree with Kelly..." and then went on to add other ideas, including goals of maintaining academic achievement in students, increasing involvement of parents and local businesses in the schools, and cooperation between the school system, county and city governments.
In the called meeting, Mr. Smalley quoted statements from Mrs. Evans' forum responses and gave his own response to what she said.
"A good name is something I want to have just like every one of you," Mr. Smalley said as he began. "So, when things are challenged as far as the job that I do, my good name means a lot. ... I was bruised because of statements that were made Monday night in the forum."
Mr. Smalley said the audit findings had all been taken care of and budgets were available on the school system's website. He supplied the necessary meeting dates to click on to find the budgets. A recording of the called meeting also is available on the school system's website at www.mcduffie.k12.ga.us. The forum can be heard at www.wtho.com.
Because the forum was broadcast on WTHO and WTWA radio in Thomson, school officials requested the called meeting also be broadcast. A recorded version was broadcast this past Monday evening, along with an edited version of the forum. Radio station owner Mike Wall said he offered both Mrs. Evans and Mr. McCorkle 15 minutes of air time to make further comments after the taped meeting was broadcast. He said Mr. McCorkle declined. Mrs. Evans gave an approximately 7-minute response.
"When I decided to run for the BOE seat, I said 'win or lose, I want to have a community conversation about our tax money and how we intend to move forward,'" she said. "I am very proud that last Monday night's candidate forum was the driving force to create this conversation. And, I stand by everything I have publicly said."
Mrs. Evans also said she was disappointed the school board decided to hold such a meeting and broadcast it on the radio prior to the election. She said this made her feel like the BOE was "a third candidate" she was running against.
She said the broadcast provided the possibility that all BOE meetings might be recorded and posted online.
"Let something wonderful come from this," she said. "That would be truly open government."
In a telephone interview, McDuffie County School Superintendent Jim LeBrun said it was not the board's intent to interfere with the election. He said they would not care if the called meeting had been broadcast after the election rather than before it.
"We were not attempting to swing the vote whatsoever," he said. "We did not even name who made what comments or name anyone. We simply were trying to clear up some inaccurate and misleading statements."
Stacey Kalberman, executive secretary of the State Ethics Commission, said she hesitated to say whether the called meeting violated ethics of public agencies because she did not know all the details. If a complaint is filed, Ms. Kalberman said, the commission would conduct an investigation.