How To Pronounce “DeKalb” (Bumped)

February 19, 2013 11:05 am

by Mike Hassinger · 32 comments

UPDATE: The DeKalb School Board, though attorney Bob Wilson, has filed a suit seeking a temporary restraining order “seeking to prevent a hearing by the Georgia Board of Education Thursday,” reports Ty Tagami in the AJC. This stuff just got real.

D-e-K-a-l-b, a political subdivision in Georgia, pronounced, “debacle,” as in “a sudden and ignominious failure, a fiasco.” The County government in being investigated by the District Attorney, as reported yesterday. The County School Board could be (and should be) removed en masse on Thursday, in part because that Board is dysfunctional and incompetent and incapable of managing the littlest of the little things, and therefore should not be trusted with bigger and more important things, such as levying property taxes for educational purposes or setting policies for the education of nearly 100,000 DeKalb children. The case was made, again, yesterday with two actions by that Board. They decided to adopt an ethics policy and to purchase some “governance training.”

At first glance, this sounds good. Lack of governance (and not the incompetence, financial shenanigans and p-ss poor student achievement in DeKalb) is why the Board is at risk of removal. The muddled ethics policy was addressed by former State Rep. Kevin Levitas in 2009, and former DeKalb School Board member Paul Womack in 2010. It only took a few years, accreditation probation and the looming threat of suspending the entire Board to get them to act, but look at how they acted:  ”…when it came to signing an oath to uphold a new code of ethics, there was confusion and some disagreement. When board member Sarah Copelin-Wood suggested the code be read aloud, a tense exchange ensued between her and board chairman Eugene Walker.

Audio from WABE at the link. Transcript of the exchange below:

Wood: “Although we’re going to sign it, we need to know what it says and to understand what it says.”

Walker: “Well, I’ve read it. You’ve not read it, Mrs. Wood?”

Wood: “That’s not what I asked, Eugene. That’s not what I said.”

Walker: “Ok. Go ahead and do what you want to do, ma’am.”

Wood: “Ok. What I said was the public don’t know what it says.

But we do. We certainly do know that if basic subject-verb agreement from a school board member is such a challenge we can’t expect them to grasp the concepts of a set of rules governing their behavior.  And look, the argument was not over some subtle nuance in the ethics code. The “tense exchange” arose over whether or not they should read it aloud before SIGNING it.

The other action taken by the Board was to approve a contract with McKenna Long Aldridge for “governance training.” What will DeKalb parents and taxpayers get for $50,000 per month from the “international law firm with more than 575 attorneys and public policy advisors…?” Here’s what former State Attorney General Thurbert Baker proposed:

“…extensive experience in Georgia and across the country designing and implementing best practice governance systems for governments, quasi-governmental entities, not-for profits and public companies.  As a former Attorney General of the State of Georgia, I have extensive experience in compliance and regulatory matters, and I will be responsible for ensuring that your matters are executed in a timely and professional manner.  I will manage the project with assistance from my colleagues, Bill Ide, who has extensive governance experience, Eric Tanenblatt, a Senior Managing Director who has extensive policy-related experience, and Tharon Johnson, who has extensive government relations experience.  Mr. Ide, Mr. Tanenblatt and Mr. Johnson will serve as point persons with respect to the governance and public affairs matters.  As required, I will utilize other attorneys and staff in our firm whose level of experience and area of specialization makes them the best suited to perform the work in the most efficient manner.  I expect to utilize a substantial amount of personnel and other resources over the course of this engagement in order to meet both short-term and long-range objectives.  In consideration of the financial situation of the school system and the important role it plays in the community, McKenna will only charge a flat fee of $50,000 per month over the next three (3) months or through May 31, 2013, with an upfront retainer of $20,000.”

Apparently one can, in fact, apply lipstick to a pig, for $20,000 down and $50,000 per month. (Read the entire proposal at this link.) Note that training on “governance,” the very issue that put DeKalb before the State Board of Education was approved by a 5-3-1 vote. Newly-elected Board member Jim McMahan bravely abstained, and Board members Pam Speaks, Donna Edler and Nancy Jester voted against, with Jester noting that a replacement board might not need governance training, and “Perhaps, had we done this earlier, we might be in a different spot.”

A chain may only be as strong as its weakest link, but weak links can serve as examples. Georgia has 179 school systems, each of which could become as disastrous as DeKalb’s within 5 years. Fixing DeKalb schools is urgent -but fixing Georgia’s K12 education system is important. The state must end the fiasco in DeKalb -and make certain it doesn’t happen anywhere else in Georgia.

Greg S February 19, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I wonder if the governance training contract can be voided if a new board takes over.

Mike Hassinger February 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Rumor buzzing now that there’s a hearing in front of a Fulton County Judge to enjoin the State BOE from holding the second half the hearing on Thursday…

novicegirl February 19, 2013 at 12:51 pm

The people of Dekalb should all vote Republican. What have they got to lose?

Mike Hassinger February 19, 2013 at 12:59 pm

That’s not going to happen, and not even what I’m asking for. I’d be happy (well, a little happier) if the students had a sufficient number of textbooks.

saltycracker February 19, 2013 at 1:53 pm

You must make the textbook lobbyists nervous.

novicegirl February 19, 2013 at 3:10 pm

I know, just trying to stir the pot a bit.

novicegirl February 19, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Although three of the school districts in our state, with the biggest problems: Atlanta cheating, Clayton accreditation and Dekalb cheating and accreditation, happen to be the most Democratic. Coincidence?

James February 19, 2013 at 3:46 pm

I live in Decatur. We are heavily Democratic. We have perhaps the best schools in the state. Coincidence?

novicegirl February 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Probably an exception. And while Decatur High is above state average, it’s not the “best” in the state, probably not even in the top 20 test scores.

James February 19, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Meh. Puts kids into Harvard and Dartmouth. I’m satisfied with that.

mpierce February 20, 2013 at 7:51 pm
Rambler14 February 20, 2013 at 6:48 am

20-30 years ago, DeKalb Co. was recognized as one of the best school systems in the state.
Pretty sure they were Democratic then too.

Corvid February 19, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Our DeKalb School Board has totally devolved into a Democratic attorney enrichment program.

Sutherland Asbill (home of former Senator and now Ambassador David Adelman)
Michael Thurmond (works with Democrat fundraiser Jim Butler of Butler Wooten firm)
“Bob” Wilson (former DeKalb prosecuter and author of Dunwoody “ethics investigation” report)
McKenna Long (home to former attorney general Thurbert Baker)

Maybe they think the new token Republican spokeman (Eric Tannenblatt) at McKenna will be able to spin their misstatments of fact to the Governor better than they have done themselves.

Oops, no, Tanneblatt supported Karen Handel against Deal in the governor’s race, so I guess they did not think that through either.

Sorry kids – no text books for you this year. We got to pay LAWYERS instead. Besides, if you could actually read the documents, it might upset you, isn’t that right Ms. Copeland-Woods?

James February 19, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Seriously, though, this transcends politics. This is a complete embarrassment.

Napoleon February 19, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Oh, this is about as political as it gets. Local politics are always the worst.

Nonchalant February 19, 2013 at 3:53 pm

I am not a lawyer, nor by no means even remotely knowledgeable about our state Constitution, but the simple question is this–our local governments the creation of the state, or are they sovereign? Where does their grant of power come from? What gave them original legitimacy?

My guess is the state is sovereign, not the local governments, and thus local governments operate independently upon conditions set by the state, not by dint of right. Now, wisdom dictates that local independence is to be desired, but it is not an absolute, philosophically.

If the ability of the Dekalb County School Board to even exist as it does rests on state grants of power based on a law, not constitutional clauses, then the state may adjust those grants of power based upon a law, not constitutional clauses. If the state createth, the state may taketh away. Therefore, Dekalb–and the courts–should render unto Casear what art Casears, and allow the state to act within its rightful powers.

Basically, if the state government can redraw county lines and say yea or nay to whether cities will be allowed to be formed, it can do a lot more too. Without knowing more, it seems this thing should fail, from a philosophical point of view. But a.) I don’t know our state constitution, and b.) courts too often act like only they have authority.

Andre February 19, 2013 at 5:11 pm

To answer your question, all local governments receive their charter from the state.

All local governments –county, city, or otherwise– receive their power and authority from the state of Georgia. That is why it takes an act of the General Assembly to increase homestead exemption in Fulton County. It takes an act of the General Assembly to re-draw the commission districts in Chatham County. And it takes an act of the General Assembly to create a new city like Brookhaven.

The State of Georgia created the DeKalb County School Board, and you’re correct that the state may alter or abolish said school board as they see fit. Although the state typically defers to the local governments on most matters.

Nonchalant February 19, 2013 at 5:32 pm

This is as I thought–I just wanted to be sure there was no stray clause here or there.

If this is right, that there are no State of Georgia Constitutional clauses regarding school boards, or changes in charters of power once given, then the blunt fact is that the state would appear to be under no hard obligation to allow a single school board to exist, much less one for each county (and city). In other words, such boards exist at the sufferance of the state, and the state could undo them at will for arbitrary reasons if it wished to, and there is not a thing the locals could do to the contrary.

I would then note the process at play here is not arbitrary, but apparently full of due process.

As a final note, if a state that created an agency or administrative unit cannot take it into what amounts to recievership, by what rights can courts, state or federal?

gchidi February 19, 2013 at 5:36 pm

There’s a reasonable case that unilaterally dismantling the Dekalb County school board would run afoul of the Voting Rights Act.

Nonchalant February 19, 2013 at 6:09 pm

The reason why, should this state ever truly turn Democratic, that I would very strongly think about leaving is that I would expect more of this for at least a generation–someone always claiming, based upon their race, an ironclad right to be incompetent, while also saying you have no moral standing to say that this should not be so.

Because at the end of the day that is what both Sumter and Dekalb are fighting for–the unchallenged right to be as incompetent as they care to be. Without having any claim to sovereignty, such as the Federal and State governments have.

Abolish both systems.

DeKalb Wonkette February 20, 2013 at 9:29 am

Clarification is in order here! Counties and school boards are created in our state’s constitution. Cities are created charter through legislation.

Getting rid of the school boards would take a Constitutional Amendment. Personally I think they should all be dissolved by CA and established individually by statute as Charters.

The General Assembly could establish a mechanism to revoke a charter.

elfiii February 19, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Dekalb County is a basket case.

Jeeeery! Shoot up here amongst us! One of us has got to have some relief!

gchidi February 19, 2013 at 5:34 pm

An injunction. They wouldn’t ask for it unless they were pretty sure they knew what was coming — the optics are that bad. They’re toast.

Someone needs to go to the administrative offices of the school department RIGHT BLOODY NOW to depose and protect junior administrative staff-types who are doubtlessly being instructed to destroy records, cancel contracts and bury evidence. It is my sincere hope that someone on the staff has the sense to take electronic backups of the district’s computer files somewhere safe — the files with the board’s email archive being at the top of the list.

Greg S February 19, 2013 at 6:20 pm

This seals the deal for me, the entire board must be replaced immediately. Moreover, since the legislature is still in session somebody needs to introduce a bill outlining stringent professional and educational requirements to run for the school board, including requirements for credit reports and background checks.

Rick Day February 19, 2013 at 6:52 pm

WTF AG??

I will manage the project with assistance from my colleagues, Bill Ide, who has extensive governance experience, Eric Tanenblatt, a Senior Managing Director who has extensive policy-related experience, and Tharon Johnson, who has extensive government relations experience.

Does Baker have a personal relationship with McKenna or it’s members? Perhaps hunting buddies? Why does he get sole authority to assign outside counsel on plum projects?

Thinking an AG can dole out sweet 6 figure fees on cases to buddies disturbs me more than everyone on the post somehow blaming “Democrats” when we all know you really want to blame “ign’ernt black folk” on that board, but are restrained by 21st century realities.

“Democrats” = the new N-word. *eyeroll*
So transparent.

Nonchalant February 19, 2013 at 7:17 pm

I have a little theory that says, historically, self-governance and communal spirit have been better in the Midwest than, say, the South because the Midwest was populated by industrious folks who had the pioneer spirit and wanted nothing to do with antebellum slavery, and did not have the planter class to deal with, as the Southern yeomanry did. This is not to mean that the South is full of mouth-breathing yokels and poor white trash, just that the Midwest in its heyday was very squared away, in part because of the historical conditions surrounding its growth, and that both it and New England still might have an edge over us crackers when its comes to skill in local self-governance, just because of greater historical tradition and cultural capital, as well as the fact that it as taken us time to get rid of the effects of the gentry. I think of a John Wallace of Coweta County, that sort of thing. County Squires up to no good. Less of that in the Midwest and New England (at least in the small town portions I’ve been to).

So, just as I don’t mind giving praise to other groups (and think we should when warranted) regarding their abilities to manage local affairs, neither do I mind (and think we should when warranted)…

Greg S February 19, 2013 at 8:30 pm

What?

Ghost of William F Buckley February 20, 2013 at 2:59 am

Nonchalant, you’d like the book “Seeds of Albion,” which discusses in excruciating detail why Americans are the way they are based on four general regions. Your points are supported and this book is a ‘must’ for any pol aspirant.

http://www.amazon.com/Albions-Seed-British-Folkways-Cultural/dp/0195069056

Cheers!

DeKalb Wonkette February 20, 2013 at 10:19 am

Also highly recommend an update to Albion’s Seed: American Nations: A history of eleven rival regional cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard

http://www.amazon.com/American-Nations-History-Regional-Cultures/dp/0143122029/ref=pd_sim_b_7

SallyForth February 19, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Do you like the term “confederacy of dunces” better, Rick?

Mike Hassinger February 19, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Rick, I think you’re confusing Michael Thurmond (new DCSS Super) with Thurbert Baker, (former Atty General of GA, now at McKenna-Long). It was the Super who chose the firm to teach the system governance.

Ghost of William F Buckley February 20, 2013 at 3:26 am

A few points of view that might be easily overlooked. One from former DeKalb School Board member Don McChesney, who lost his bid to remain on the Board, and the other from Rep. Scott Holcomb. Mr. McChesney predicts the outcome of DeKalb School Board’s TRO against the State BOE may prevail. Hmmmmmm.

Kudus for Rep. Holcomb for speaking on behalf of his Constitutents!

Don McChesney: “Remember this: Dr. Walker, Thurbert Baker, Michael Thurmond, MMO and her protector Speaker Ralston go back a long way.”
http://blog.donfordekalb.com/2013/02/19/197/

Rep. Holcomb: “… I urge the State BOE to recommend suspension of the entire Board. I believe this is the right thing to do.”
http://brookhaven.patch.com/blog_posts/remove-the-dekalb-board-of-education

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