Three APS Ethics Panel Members Resign, Halting Four Cases

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(APN) ATLANTA — Three members of the Ethics Commission for the Atlanta Public School Board of Education have resigned, Atlanta Progressive News has learned, causing pending investigations and hearings to come to a screeching halt.

Two of the Members, Julia Neighbors and Karen Woodward, were among the three who recently voted that Courtney English had deceived the public [technically, they voted no against the finding that he had not deceived the public].

Chairwoman Susan Pease Langford, who had been criticized by many APS parents for her leadership as Chair and for her role in two cases involving Board Member Courtney English, also resigned.

There were four pending investigations, including one against Board of Education Chairman Khaatim El, that was to go to hearing in early May 2011; as well as cases against Members Courtney English, Yolanda Johnson, and Nancy Meister.  APS parent and attorney, Janet Kishbaugh, had filed complaints against all four for receiving pro bono services from the Alisias PR firm while considering Alisias for a contract with APS.

APS sent out notices advising the public that El’s upcoming hearing and the investigatory meeting for the other three Members were each postponed indefinitely.

Pease Langford and Woodward declined to comment in brief interviews with APN.  Neighbors did not immediately return a voicemail seeking comment.

Neighbors was the first to resign on April 04, 2011, in an email to the remaining Commission Members.

“It is with difficulty that I write this email to inform you that I have resigned from the Ethics Commission.  I have struggled with the decision for some time, but given the other commitments I have professionally and personally, I feel that this is the right decision for me,” Neighbors wrote.

Pease Langford was the second to resign on April 25, 2011, in a letter to APS General Counsel Veleter Mazyck.

“This is a difficult time for APS.  There are many challenges facing our school system.  Fortunately, there are many stakeholders working diligently to address the challenges,” she wrote.

“I believe the Ethics Commission serves a vital role for APS.  However, I have decided that I can better serve the System in capacities other than as a member of the Ethics Commission.  Therefore, please accept this letter as my resignation,” she wrote.

According to one source, Pease Langford may be seeking a position as an attorney for APS.

Finally, Woodward resigned on April 26, 2011, in an email to Howard Grant and Board Member Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, who had nominated Woodward to the Commission.

“Thank you for the opportunity to serve on the Ethics Commission of the Atlanta Board of Education.  While I am a strong proponent of the public school system, this endeavor has not proved to be the most productive use of my time and energy.  I therefore submit my resignation,” Woodward wrote.

Woodward did not deny in a brief interview with APN that she was frustrated with the Ethics Commission’s processes.

The lack of resolution to pending ethical issues involving four out of nine APS BOE Members could complicate APS’s ability to retain accreditation.  Specifically, one of the six recommendations made to the APS Board by AdvancED/SACS CASI was, number three, “ensure all Board member actions are aligned with Board policies.”

According to the APS Charter 3-106(a): “If a vacancy occurs on the Commission, the Board shall within 90 days appoint a person to fill the unexpired term.”

This means that by the time a new Ethics Commission is put in place, Governor Nathan Deal may already be in the process of deciding whether to remove and replace the entire Board in order to preserve APS’s accreditation.  Therefore, his decision may have to occur without having resolution to the current ethics complaints.

While this is not spelled out in the Charter, the practice of APS has been to allow each District Board Member, in addition to the Post 9 at-large Member, to nominate an Ethics Commission Member.  Therefore, the next steps in bringing the Commission back to a functioning capacity will be for the appropriate Board Members to nominate a replacement for their previous respective nominees; and for the Board to approve such nominations.  After that, the Commission will have to elect a new Chairperson to replace Pease Langford.

Pease Langford had been nominated by Board Member Yolanda Johnson, one of the “Gang of Five” who ousted the APS BOE Chair last year.

On the other hand, Neighbors had been nominated by BOE Member Emmett Johnson, and Woodward had been nominated by BOE Member Cecily Harsch-Kinnane.  Johnson and Harsch-Kinnane are both members of the Board minority of four.

(END / 2011)

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