Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ethics 101: Our BOE and Superintendent Need a Refresher Course

We assume that our elected Board of Education members know the basic principals about ethics, conflicts of interest, etc. We assume the Board of Education will hold DCSS administrators to conduct their business abiding by basic ethical principals.

But that's not happening here in DeKalb. Our bright and honorable BOE Chair, Tom Bowen, a good man, did not see the obvious conflict of interest in naming David Moody to chair of the school construction citizen's committee, even though he owns a school contruction company that continues to bid on DCSS projects (and there are hundreds of millions of dollars in projects).

Our superintendent was concerned way back in November of 2008, by alleged "half-truths" from the Chief Operating Officer, and her farming work to her husband and also her "friend" David Moody. He said there were grounds to let her go, but instead he decided to renew her $200,000 per year contract, because "not renewing her contract at that time might jeopardize the progress of our construction program”. Our superintendent also had the Board of Ed approve an expensive purchase of America's Choice curriculum, conveniently after America's Choice just happened to hire a former high-ranking DCSS administrator.

And the most severe case of questionable ethics was from Gene Walker, who was chair of the DeKalb Development Authority while being a BOE member. Even though the two entities have sometime competing goals, he saw no problem with holding both positions. He received over $20,000 in campaign contributions from Mel Sembler and cohorts, an amount never seen before in Georgia for a board of education election. Walker only left after public pressure forced him to do the right thing, not because he recognized the ethical dilemma.

State Rep. Kevin Levitas (who listens to and responds to the public) heard from his constituents about DCSS and BOE ethics, and did something about it. Walker's response today to Levitas' legislation on the AJC website is head shaking. It tells us all we need to know about how some of our Board of Education members view ethics. To Gene, it's "an axe to grind", not something he should hold in the highest regard as an elected official who oversees close to a billion dollars a year in taxpayer funds.

I'm tired of self-inflicted scandal after scandal. I'm tired of millions of dollars spent unchecked (Nix-Fowler’s contract with the school system, obtained by the AJC, clearly lists Tony Pope’s company as one of its subcontractor architects. And Crawford Lewis’ signature is on the $17.6 million contract, dated May 2008 — six months before his interview with the DA’s Office. -- “I wish I had caught it, but I did not,” Lewis wrote in his statement.)

Oy vey. Let's find five fresh candidates for the BOE seats up for reelection in November. We can do better.

It looks like last year’s feud within DeKalb County’s ranks will continue at the state Capitol this session. The following note from Eugene Walker, a member of the DeKalb County Board of Education, is making the rounds.

The ethics bill he refers to is H.B. 888, sponsored by state Rep. Kevin Levitas (D-Atlanta).

To wit:
More often than not, when there is a political ax to grind, the unforeseen collateral damages harm a far greater number of people than the originally intended target.

Take state Rep. Mike Jacobs, for example. Angry with former CEO Vernon Jones and myself, this Republican lawmaker sought to legislatively exact political revenge. He convinced the Georgia General Assembly to pass a law that only affected the Development Authority of DeKalb County.

The Development Authority of DeKalb County used to bring in hundreds of millions in new investment and thousands of jobs every year. No more. Thanks to Mike Jacobs’ law, the Development Authority of DeKalb County can no longer do that. Companies seeking to relocate simply consider other metro areas. Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett couldn’t be happier, as they capitalize on DeKalb’s petty politicking.

But the lesson has not been learned. Now comes state Rep. Kevin Levitas who, with disgruntled school board member Paul Womack, wants to create a special set of ethics laws that apply only to the DeKalb County school board and nowhere else.

Among other things, this would preclude a part-time school board member from serving on another board. I used to be the chair of the Development Authority of DeKalb County, but I have since resigned. The Atlanta Development Authority proudly seats an Atlanta School Board member in its ranks. Why would it be unethical for this arrangement to exist in DeKalb County , but not Atlanta ?

[Moreover], why would any ethics law not be good enough to be applied statewide? Furthermore, if any new ethics law is appropriate for School Boards in general, would it not be good enough for the entire Georgia General Assembly? Given its recent history, I might recommend that Mr. Levitas clean his own house first.

Please understand: I support guidelines that ensure honesty and integrity throughout the public sector. But Mr. Levitas’ current proposal is really not about that at all. His proposal, like Jacobs’ law before it, is just the latest salvo of political infighting. The real tragedy is if it is passed, and it places the DeKalb schools in a compromising situation relative to other school systems, it’s the children who will suffer – not the politicians.


Anonymous said...

Walker calls out Paul Womack very publicly: "But the lesson has not been learned. Now comes state Rep. Kevin Levitas who, with disgruntled school board member Paul Womack"

Nice to see BOE members who respect each other and have to work together to make decisions that affect a billion dollar budget.

Anonymous said...

"The Atlanta Development Authority proudly seats an Atlanta School Board member in its ranks. Why would it be unethical for this arrangement to exist in DeKalb County , but not Atlanta?"

Because Gene-O, they are two different people, and the Development Auth. person isn't also accepting tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from a developer for his school board campaign.

fedupindcss said...

While Womack and Walker certainly seem to dislike one another, I doubt Rep. Levitas is doing this on Womack's command. 1) they are from different parties, and 2) Levitas is smarter than Womack. It is more likely that Levitas has received a lot of constituent calls about the situation in DCSS, and he is doing what he can at a state level.

Anonymous said...

Just posted on Galloway's blog:

The DeKalb County School System apparently is (rightfully) in the legislature’s crosshairs. State Rep. Ed Rynders just authored a bill, H.B. 977, that states, “If any local board of education furloughs teachers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, support staff, or other non-administrative positions during any school year, such local board of education shall not use any state funds to provide a salary increase for the local school superintendent or administrators during such school year.” After requiring our poor DeKalb teachers to make sacrifice after sacrifice, our esteemed Board of Education awarded Superintendent Crawford Lewis a $15,000 raise plus a large increase to his expense account. Sickening.

Anonymous said...

"The DeKalb County School System apparently is (rightfully) in the legislature’s crosshairs."

Ya think?!?!?!

Every year since becoming Superintendent, Crawford Lewis has received less and less funding from the State of Georgia. Meanwhile, his counterparts in the other metro Atlanta school systems have had received more.

In fact, DCSS receives LESS funding from the state than its peer systems in Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett, Forsyth and (dare I type it) Clayton counties.

Yet another example of poor performance by Craword Lewis and the Board of Education that enables him.

Anonymous said...

fedup, not only are Womack and Levitas NOT working together but Womack has ranted about Levitas' bill at meetings before, decrying state interference in BOE matters. Probably the only reason Womack "appears" to be favoring it now is that Walker has been so outspoken against it.

Justice In DeKalb said...

Let's NOT allow Eugene Walker to distract us from the task at hand! His rhetoric is no longer relevant. He must go.

Let's oust them from office!

Eugene Walker Must Go!
Crawford Lewis Must Go!
It is time to clean house (morelike clear out the DCSS Board of Ed)

Terminate Ronald Ramsey
Terminate Pat Pope

If anyone is interested in signing the ipetition to oust these people, please email me immediately at -

If anyone is interested in joining a Class Action Lawsuit Against DeKalb County School System/Pat Pope/Crawford Lewis, please email me immediately at -

Pre-order the book - BLACKBOARD - CORRUPT!

Ella Smith said...

Ethics is important in any school system in the state. However, lately it has been a big issue in Dekalb.

I am supportive of this legislature throughout the state. Ethics 101 is needed in BOE in the state.

Anonymous said...

In replying to one of the comments that Dekalb keeps receiving less funding from the state....why do you think so? In Gwinnett county the teachers are receiving their increment for next year and they are under the same state of Georgia as Dekalb is and have had the same cuts from the state.