APS Board’s New Ethics Commission Has Three Pending Cases
(APN) ATLANTA — The Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education has restructured its Ethics Commission, which is tasked with investigating ethics complaints made against Board Members, and the newly re-formed Commission is currently preparing to hear cases again. This includes three pending cases filed last year by APS parent Janet Kishbaugh against Board Members Courtney English, Yolanda Johnson, and Nancy Meister.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, those three Board Members, in addition to former Board Chairman Khaatim El, received pro bono services from the Alisias PR firm and think tank, while considering Alisias for an APR contract, in violation of the APS Charter.
Kishbaugh first filed the complaint against El in February 2011, and then filed complaints against English, Johnson, and Meister. El later resigned in July 2011, making the complaint against him moot.
The previous Ethics Commission had voted to investigate English, Johnson, and Meister, in March 2011.
El’s complaint was about to go to a hearing, with the three other complaints to get hearings shortly thereafter, when several Ethics Commission members–Chairwoman Susan Pease Langford, and Members David Dorsey, Julia Neighbors, and Karen Woodward–resigned, rendering the Commission without a quorum and unable to conduct business.
Dorsey wrote in his June 2011 resignation letter that he was resigning to avoid having to declare El guilty.
“There is a case currently before the Ethics Commission of the Atlanta Public Schools alleging a conflict of interest. At the time the Board member recommended approval of a proposal for public relations efforts in support of official Board policies, he [El] was receiving pro bono services from the same company for the same purpose,” Dorsey wrote.
“Thus in the process of fulfilling his responsibilities, he made a technical mistake, i.e., he failed to recuse himself from making a recommendation regarding a proposal before the Board. The intent as well as the result was in pursuit of his responsibility for the benefit of the Atlanta Public Schools and without any personal benefit… It is my conviction that there was no possible intentional conflict of interest,” Dorsey wrote.
“Nevertheless, I refuse to violate the letter of the law by voting to exonerate the accused. If holding the accused responsible entailed only a serious injustice to one whose actions were honorable, I would consider it a necessary consequence in defense of Law. But I will not commit this injustice to an individual when either decision would also have profoundly deleterious consequences for many critically important issues which the Board of Education now faces,” Dorsey wrote.
“Therefore, I hereby resign from the Ethics Commission of the Atlanta Public Schools,” Dorsey wrote.
Two other Commission Members who resigned, Neighbors and Woodward, declined to discuss their reasons with APN; however, they were among a minority of Commission Members who wanted to hold English accountable for deceiving constituents in an email regarding his misuse of an APS credit card. It is believed they were frustrated and felt the Commission was a poor use of their time.
After numerous parents complained that they believed a slim majority of Ethics Commission members were protecting a slim majority of the Board, [now Chairman] Reuben McDaniel proposed changing how the Ethics Commission was made up.
Previously, each Board Member was responsible for nominating a member to the Ethics Commission.
In an October 17, 2011, resolution, the Board changed it to where seven community organizations were responsible for nominating members.
Those organizations, and their respective appointees, are:
– Atlanta Bar Association, Stephen Paul Cummings, II Esq.
– Gates City Bar Association, Sam Woodhouse, Esq.
– Institute of Internal Auditors, Fred Masci
– Atlanta Chapter, Georgia School Boards Association, Joy Berry
– Atlanta Council of PTAs, Edith Richardson
– Emory University Center for Ethics, Dr. Rebecca D. Pentz
– Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, Cathy Henson, Esq.
Dr. Howard Grant, Board Administrator, told APN the Board is currently undergoing training and setting up a structure to hear cases, but that if a case were to be filed now, it would hear it.
Grant said that Kishbaugh would need to resubmit her case.
However, Kishbaugh disputed Grant’s assertion. She said that she asked about this when the previous Board lost its quorum of members, and that APS told her that she could not resubmit the complaint and start the process over, because of the statute of limitations on complaints.
She said that she was told that the new Board, once assembled, would be able to hear her three complaints, which are still pending.
Grant did not immediately return a follow-up phone call seeking clarification or reconciliation of these statements.