The next time mandatory drug testing for the untouchable class of the moment — sex offenders, pedophiles, welfare recipients, used car dealers — comes up in the legislature, someone will inevitably call for mandatory drug testing for politicians. Because, of course, they’d all have to be completely wasted all the time to come up with the nonsense that passes for legislation around here. Har, har. Everyone gets a cheap laugh.
Do you know why we don’t drug test legislators? Consider the moments when the scoundrels we’ve elected are trying not to pee on themselves while holding a plastic cup in the bathroom. One’s ability to serve ceases to be a function of winning an election. It becomes a function of passing a urinalysis. Specifically, it becomes a function of a state police lab honestly processing and reporting the results of a urinalysis.
For a moment, a legislator becomes beholden to the very people for whom he or she sets policies and budgets. That is why the Bibles on swearing-in day don’t smell faintly of urine. (Or so I’m told.) That’s also why lawmakers aren’t subject to arrest for routine misbehavior like speeding while the legislature is in session … since an ornery sheriff could probably find a reason to lock up politicians he doesn’t like on a day local funding comes up for a vote.
Thus, the curious case of Stan Jester in DeKalb. Jester was elected without opposition to the DeKalb County School Board last year. He has a long record of outspoken, strident and meticulously documented opposition to the school bureaucracy.
He is also not a school employee. Both the school system’s policies and state law explicitly say that board members are not “employees” of the school system. Jester doesn’t work for the school system. He works for the public, supervising the school system.
That might seem like a small distinction. But Jester is being denied his paycheck and access to school system email over it.
Jester refused to submit to a criminal background check by the school system when being sworn in. He’s willing to be backgrounded … just not by the people he has oversight authority over. (He’s gone through a GCIC check produced by Dunwoody, and posted it online.) His wife Nancy — a former school board member who won election to the county commission last year — was fingerprinted when she was elected. She raised objections on the same grounds and was told after the fact that the system had erred … and that it wouldn’t happen again.
Of course, no one new is normally going to know that. Jester had early warning.
Part of this is a matter of stubborn principle, to be certain. But the chairman of the school board, Melvin Johnson, sent Jester an email last month affirming the school district fingerprinting policy. “The District is in receipt of your State background check information conducted by the DeKalb County Police Department and transmitted to the District’s Public Safety Office. However the District’s policies and procedures require a certified national fingerprinting and background check. Please advise.”
That pushes the matter from principle into practical concern.
Jester and I don’t see eye to eye on big picture policy questions, but that’s really beside the point. This is exactly what a school system still on double-secret probation by its accrediting agency needs to avoid. The idea of forcing a dissident school board member to fight for his paycheck is an affront to the democratic process. It’s a sign that the central office is playing political games. It’s short-sighted and embarrassing and — given the conditions — deeply threatening.
Michael Thurmond, the DeKalb school superintendent, has been making noises in political circles about running for CEO, or so I’m told. But he’s badly mangled talks with the charter cluster movement in uber-progressive Druid Hills. Now this. Sure, the CEO election is partisan — he’d be running against Democrats in a primary, so I can only figure he thinks he can score cheap points by mangling the lone Republican on the board. But if he is to be taken seriously as a leader in a county as badly fractured along political and racial lines as DeKalb, I humbly suggest he show some leadership … and hold whoever is holding Jester’s paycheck and email accountable.
If he doesn’t … then he’s either causing the problem or lacks the managerial skill to solve it.
Mr. Thurmond. Find the people with Jester’s check, cancel their “conference tickets” to Denver and hand them plastic cups. They’re smoking something.