Reed’s Political Clique at Center of APS Board Takeover
(APN) ATLANTA — Two state legislators held a press conference yesterday to denounce the report by AdvancED/SACS CASI regarding the Atlanta Public Schools. The two legislators–State Sen. Vincent Fort and State Rep. Rashad Taylor–have been actively supporting the new Board majority, led by Khaatim El.
However, many do not realize that the three politicos–El, Taylor, and Fort–are central players in the political clique that helped Kasim Reed get elected as Atlanta’s mayor in 2009.
Along with Sen. Fort, Khaatim El, the new Atlanta Public School Board President, was one of Kasim Reed’s top supporters, when Reed was running for Mayor.
Meanwhile, Reed’s top campaign staffers included Deputy Campaign Manager, State Rep. Rashad Taylor.
But not only were the three top Reed supporters; they themselves form a tight political clique. Rep. Taylor, a mentee to State Sen. Fort, was also once a roommate to El, according to several sources, and served as El’s campaign manager when he first ran for School Board.
El’s friends in the State legislature have assisted him in concrete ways in orchestrating the Board takeover by the new Majority, which consists of several members who endorsed Reed: El, Courtney English, and Brenda Muhammad.
For example, State Sen. Fort had been one of the first to criticize the previous Board leadership for allegedly being under the control of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, in a press conference he jointly held with the Fulton County Taxpayers’ Association.
Then, when El and the other four members of the new Board majority took over the APS Board late last year, State Rep. Taylor requested a legal opinion from the State legislature law department on whether they were allowed to change the charter.
Upon the release of the SACS accreditation investigation report, State Sen. Vincent Fort and State Rep. Taylor led a press conference at the State Capitol to address the issue.
State Sen. Fort also sent out a press release criticizing the SACS investigation, calling it biased.
In an interview with APN, Sen. Fort said that he believed the SACS investigation was biased in favor of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, adding that there are Board Members of SACS who are also affiliated with the Chamber. Fort argues that the previous Board leadership, particularly LaChandra Butler-Burks, was unduly influenced by the Chamber.
However, APN reviewed the 2009 candidate endorsements by EduPAC, the Chamber’s education-related PAC, to learn that in fact the Chamber had endorsed and supported eight out of nine of the sitting APS Board Members, with the exception of Buckhead’s Nancy Meister.
Therefore, the idea that the old Board leadership was pro-Chamber and the new Board leadership is somehow less pro-Chamber does not seem to be supported by the facts.
In response, Fort argued that the Chamber is no longer supporting Khaatim El.
“The Chamber is not gonna give Khaatim El another penny because now they know more about him,” Fort said.
Fort also criticized the SACS report for quoting anonymous sources; for interviewing members of the Chamber; and for suggesting that the new Superintendent should be selected by more than a slim majority of APS Board Members.
“Through the review process all members of the Board of Education admitted that their inability to govern is negatively impacting the school system. The report provides the system with a road map to improving governance. With the Board’s commitment, the Required Actions in the report will help the system effectively respond to their current challenges,” AdvancED said in a response to Fort and Taylor obtained by APN.
The Metro Chamber did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
As for Rep. Taylor’s involvement in the APS debacle, one concerned parent, Allison Adair, who co-filed an APS ethics complaint with Kim Kahwach late last year, told APN that she was concerned that Taylor may have committed an ethical violation for seeking a legal opinion from the legislature’s law department on behalf of El, despite the fact–and without disclosing the fact–that he and El had a personal friendship, that he had been El’s campaign manager, and that they may have still been living together at the time [which she said would technically make them “relatives” under the APS charter’s definitions].
The initial complaint filed by Adair and Kahwach raised the issue of a conflict of interest involving Taylor and El; however, they did not submit further evidence to APS because they could not establish Taylor’s address.
According to Taylor’s campaign websites and disclosures, he only listed a PO Box, not a physical address.
APN attempted to learn whether Taylor and El were still living together, but no one would speak about it.
Rep. Taylor did not return an email seeking comment. Khaatim El did not return a phone message left with APS.
Sen. Fort refused to confirm whether his two friends were, or are still, roommates.
The White Pages website lists Taylor as living on Harwell Street; however, a resident who owns a contiguous property says that the Harwell Street residence has been vacant and abandoned for some time.
(END / 2011)