Open Records Requests often yield information that although included in the request, is actually part of another conversation. All communication to and from board members is public information, therefore when a group of citizens requested all of Nancy Jester’s email correspondence, they came to possess a conversation about SPLOST IV that I found a very relevant and interesting ‘aside’.
It seems that Nancy was ‘virtually’ bullied by Gene Walker and others on the board for her vote against the SPLOST IV construction plans put forth by the board. She was also very concerned about the apparent advocacy by employees of the district for the passage of SPLOST. She repeatedly sought information and pointed out problems as she saw them. There was some very serious ‘cheerleading’ for SPLOST IV by some DCSS power players behind the scenes—a big ‘no-no’ legally speaking.
Below are some quotes from the stack of hard copies of the emails requested and received by the Dunwoody group:
Responding to Nancy’s inquiry as to the rumor that there was a meeting about SPLOST IV that evening, Barbara Colman (DCSS COO and head of construction) sent an email to the entire board announcing the upcoming meetings at the offices of ODE (Organization of DeKalb Educators) scheduled by “Friends of DeKalb”, the PAC with the goal of passing SPLOST IV.
Dr Walker responded, asking Nancy, “Since you have publicly stated your opposition to SPLOST IV what use would you have for such info?”
Nancy’s response: “Thank you for asking. First let me clarify what I have and have not stated publicly. As you recall, I did not vote in favor of this SPLOST resolution and stated the reasons for my vote prior to the vote. This is not congruent with being against SPLOST IV as a financial mechanism. This is an important difference.”
She goes on to explain that she wanted the info in order to keep a current calendar for her constituents. (Nancy maintains a blog which you can find here.)
Nancy asks in a later email to Barbara Colman, Dr. Atkinson, Ms. Tyson and the rest of the board, “Will our attorneys be present? This is a meeting of an advocacy group expressly gathered to promote the passage of SPLOST. As such, any use of employees and county resources dedicated to this meeting must be clear that they cannot advocate for this tax but only provide information. Also, if a group formed to advocate against the tax would the county provide equivalent personnel and resources? I want to make sure we are operating in compliance with the law.”
Ramona Tyson replied to the group, “Ms. Jester, Again, the administration has never met with this group or any other group to promote the passage of SPLOST. Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan (SAB) continually meets with staff to provide guidance and direction on our role which is simply to provide information to requesting groups. We have been scripted and advised in meetings with SAB on our role. We repeatedly communicate this to you and will continue to do every time we receive this type of communication We have been told by SAB that we may attend meetings where we are asked to provide information but never promote SPLOST. We are in full compliance now, and the past and will continue in the future. You have received emails that are archived that communicate this same position.”
To which Nancy replied, “Let me assure you my memory is serving me quite well here. Again, I write about this matter because I am not convinced that our staff is compliant with the letter or spirit of the law. I hope that offers clarity and assurance that I shall not drop this matter. To this point, I am in possession of an email from a staff member that states, '…the school district is asking for your energy, enthusiasm and support once again.'”
Nancy goes on to indicate that Tyson’s statement is false since the email she obtained clearly predates Tyson’s assertion that “the administration has never met with this group or any other group to promote the passage of SPLOST” (see the above Tyson quote). Tyson was copied on that earlier email and was, therefore, aware that the staff member had been meeting with the PAC from earlier in the summer.
Tyson replied, “Give us this staff member’s name so that we can address this through personnel.” Nancy then replies that she will forward the original email from the employee to the attorneys and Tom Bowen.
Later in the emails collected, Paul Womack forwarded an email to the board written by Eric Johnson (former state legislator who proposed building prison camps for illegal immigrants) describing why he is supporting SPLOST. Nancy replied that Eric Johnson lives in Savannah and that his email was about Chatham County’s SPLOST and wasn’t meant to advocate for SPLOST in DeKalb. Further, of course, Eric Johnson cannot and will not vote in DeKalb. She questioned the relevance of Johnson’s actions in Savannah to support for SPLOST in DeKalb since the circumstances, which she described, were so different.
Gene Walker then responded with an email to Nancy stating that, “It both saddens and disappoints me to see how transparent and consistent you are in attempting to diminish or dash any scintilla of support one might muster for the November vote on DeKalb’s SPLOST. However, the most hurtful and insulting aspect of your response is your expressing the need to clarify any confusion over Eric’s email. In case you’re not aware, the implication is that your level of reading and comprehension is superior to ours.”
That comment made me chuckle. How could Nancy’s questioning the use of sharing the opinion of a former state legislator from hundreds of miles away to promote our SPLOST be “hurtful” or imply that she has superior reading skills? As I read it, I interpreted Nancy’s reply to only infer that Womack was misrepresenting support for DeKalb’s SPLOST by allowing people to assume that this email from Johnson promoted DeKalb’s SPLOST. Perhaps Nancy should no longer infer anything. Perhaps she should just say exactly what she is thinking.
However, Walker continues to berate Jester in his four paragraph email stating that he is well aware that Johnson does not represent DeKalb but that “former state senator Johnson’s explanation of SPLOST and why he supports it for his community is one of the least confusing and credible examples one can offer regarding the value of SPLOST and how it is managed. And the importance and meaning of his e-mail to me is that he is encouraging people in Georgia, no matter their county, to vote 'Yes' for SPLOST.”
So basically, Walker figures it is perfectly fine to plagiarize and send out someone else’s email with the intent of swaying voters in your own district on your own version of a similar issue. Interesting.
I read the Johnson email in its entirety. Not only does he not mention anything about the rest of the state SPLOSTs, nor encourage anyone anywhere else to vote for a SPLOST, Johnson references only specific tax benefits for Chatham County such as reducing the millage rate by 3 mils over 5 years (not true for DeKalb). He also says they have the lowest millage rate in the metro area (not true for DeKalb). In fact, he specifically says that property taxes will increase by law to pay for approved bonds (in Chatham County only). Further, one entire paragraph in Johnson’s email is devoted to the fact that SPLOST will provide much needed construction jobs for people. Specifically, he states, “This isn’t spending tax dollars as a ‘stimulus’ for green jobs or politically-correct purposes, but real, good-paying construction jobs.”
Nancy responded by reiterating the tax implication in DeKalb for non-passage of SPLOST, “If SPLOST fails, it would sunset and (the $2500 exemption) would result in a $57 per year increase in property taxes. This would be the same for any property. ($2500 x 22.98 mils). If the voters of DeKalb passed a SPLOST in the future, I believe that exemption would return."