Sen. Fort Announces Ethics Bill in Response to APS Erin Hames Contract
As Atlanta Progressive News previously reported, Hames was Gov. Nathan Deal’s education policy advisor until she left her post to work as a consultant for schools that face the possibility of state takeover as a result of the legislation Hames herself crafted.
“The fact is, Erin Hames is profiting from the very legislation she pushed,” Fort said in a press conference on November 04, 2015.
Hames is one of the architects of the Opportunity School District, a proposed statewide school district that could take control of “failing” schools.
This would leave local school boards without authority, but still responsible for the cost of educating students in schools run by state-appointed principals or charter operators.
Georgia’s constitution doesn’t currently allow for such a thing.
Legislation that Hames drafted, which passed the General Assembly in March 2015, created a constitutional referendum that will be put to voters in November 2016.
In August 2015, Deal announced Hames’s resignation. That same day, Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education (APS BOE) approved a no-bid 96,000 dollar contract with Hames’s new consulting firm, ReformED. The firm was incorporated only five days before the contract was awarded.
Fort said in the press conference that he wanted to know when Hames conceived of ReformED.
“Was it during the Legislative Session? Was it before the Senate Education Committee [hearings]? Or did she have an epiphany on sine die when we adjourned?” he asked.
Fort’s legislation would prevent officials in the state’s executive branch of government from registering as a lobbyist for one year after leaving office. Legislators are already subject to that restriction.
The bill also seeks to outlaw the executive branch contracting with any former officials until they have been out of office for at least one year.
That portion of the bill is in response to a contract struck between ReformED and Governor Deal’s office. Under that contract, Hames will continue to advise the Governor on education matters, for 30,000 dollars over the next year.
“This is a pattern that we’ve seen from the Deal Administration of profiting from one’s position within State Government,” Fort said.
Organizers with Rise Up Georgia joined Fort at the podium during the press conference.
Allie McCullen, Rise Up’s education organizer, aired concerns about how Hames’s work has paved the way for more charter schools.
She pointed to recent revelations that a charter school chain, which operates Latin Academy in Atlanta and two charter schools in Fulton, is missing 950,000 dollars.
Records obtained from the school show that the money was withdrawn from ATMs––one of which shares an address with a strip club––and spent on dinners, personal travel, employee bonuses, and entertainment at night clubs.
“We think that we should be pushing for more charter accountability… rather than pushing a huge privatization plan that will only catalyze the number of charters that we see cropping up in our state,” McCullen stated.
Rise Up will hold a town hall meeting to discuss these issues on Thursday, November 05, 2015, at St. Paul AME Church, 1540 Pryor Rd. SW.
Fort’s bill is in the draft stage and will be officially introduced by the 2016 Legislative Session.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The author of this article works part time for Rise Up as a researcher and will participate in the organization’s November 05, 2015 event.