UPDATE: Request Under Georgia’s Open Meetings Act

On February 14, 2012, DeKalb School Watch sent the following e-mail to each member of the DeKalb County School System Board of Education:

Please tell us if you personally met with District Attorney Robert James, to discuss alleged wrongdoing by DeKalb County School System Board of Education (BOE) members, before James made his decision to NOT empanel a special grand jury (as requested by the November-December 2011 DeKalb County Grand Jury) to investigate the BOE.   Yes or No.

This request is made under Georgia’s Open Meetings Act.

If your answer is “yes” please also tell us:

1. When (date, time);

2. Where (place);

3. How (individually, in a group [who else was in the group?], on the phone, via e-mail);

4. What (topics discussed).

Thank you.

We know that District Attorney Robert James did NOT talk with Nancy Jester or Don McChesney even though James implied that he spoke with all the BOE members — telling a half-truth with that implication.

“A half-truth is a deceptive statement that includes some element of truth. The statement might be partly true, the statement may be totally true but only part of the whole truth, or it may utilize some deceptive element, such as improper punctuation, or double meaning, especially if the intent is to deceive, evade, blame,  or misrepresent the truth.” [Merriam-Webster].

The fact the the DeKalb District Attorney cannot be trusted to speak plainly and truthfully to DeKalb citizens and taxpayers certainly goes right to the center of the organized corruption entangling DeKalb County and DeKalb County School System (DCSS).

Bowen, Copelin-Woods, Cunningham, Edler, Speaks, Walker and Womack have not opened the e-mail they received and, though required by law to respond, have not responded.  (We know this because the e-mails were tracked.)  It was a simple question, asked by taxpayers — a simple question put to elected officials that should not require legal enforcement to get an answer.  Boldly ignoring the law like this is usually an indicator of widespread, organized corruption.

What Is Corruption?

Corruption may be defined as the use of power by government officials for illegitimate private gain.  Forms of corruption vary, but include bribery, extortion, cronyism and nepotism (i.e., the DCSS Friends-and-Family Plan), patronage, graft and embezzlement.  Corruption may facilitate criminal enterprise such as that covered by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).  Crawford Lewis and Pat Pope are still awaiting trial on RICO charges.  Others are waiting in the wings — or should be.  Pat Pope has said she is not going down alone.

Corruption flourishes where there is inappropriate involvement of closed cliques (in DCSS, African-American sororities and fraternities); a tradition of “tribal solidarity,” including nepotism and favoritism, discrimination and bullying; a provision of benefits to certain ethnic groups; and low literacy and education among the population.

In short, corruption undermines democracy, reduces accountability, distorts representation and results in inefficient, costly and ineffective provision of public services, such as education.   Corruption reduces the legitimacy of government and kills trust and tolerance, upon which a democratic society is based.


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14 Responses to UPDATE: Request Under Georgia’s Open Meetings Act

  1. Anon says:

    Next time I’m called for jury duty I’m going to point out during voir dire that I don’t feel I can trust the county DA’s office.

  2. Just Watch says:

    Please consider filing a complaint with Sam Olens’ office. He takes Open Records and Open Meetings compliance very seriously.

    Here is his information:

    http://law.ga.gov/00/article/0,2086,87670814_87670967_87996538,00.html

  3. This post is excellent! What are the 7 BOE members, who have not responded, trying to hide? Seems to me these folks would want to be out front on this issue, since there is a perception among the majority of the DeKalb electorate that DCSS is a disaster and unable to police themselves. How much you want to bet that the only people OUR DA contacted were Bowen and Walker? I think that is why the other 5 are keeping quiet. Why hasn’t Womack responded? Why hasn’t Pam Speaks responded? I expected more from those two. I hope some of Womack’s or Speaks’ constituents send them emails and ask them why they did not respond to a simple question?

    I have never heard of a DA asking the folks, who were the subject of the Grand Jury investigation, to stand behind him when he makes a public statement that there will not be an investigation.

    I could not find an email address for Sam Olens, State Attorney General. We need to fill Olens snail mailbox with requests for an investigation of OUR DeKalb DA as well as our BOE for not answering a simple question. I sure wish we still had J. Tom Morgan as our DA, he was honest and ran our DA’s office during a very tumultuous time, Vernon Jones reign.

    DCSS = Open and transparent government agency, NOT! DCSS = EPIC FAILURE

  4. Anonymous says:

    What law specifies a requirement to respond to an email asking about a personal conversation? Wouldn’t that be considered privileged information given the conversation,if it happened, was regarding a possible legal matter with the DA? How does the Open Meetings Act govern a private and personal conversation?

  5. Anonymous says:

    I forgot to add that I’m interested to know the extent of the number of people the DA spoke with. I’m just not sure if there is a legal obligation to reveal this information, as you are suggesting.

  6. DWDad says:

    There is absolutely no privilege attached to any conversation between the DeKalb DA and members of the BOE. The privilege that you reference applies only to conversations between a client and the client’s attorney that the client considers to be confidential and occurs for the purpose of the client seeking legal advice.

    Here, the BOE members are not the DA’s clients. In fact, the DA would be potentially adverse to the BOE member if that BOE member were the target of an investigation. The DA’s “client” is the people of DeKalb County. This is why criminal proceedings are captioned as People of DeKalb County vs. John Doe.

    If I were one of the BOE members who had been contacted by the DA, I would likely refuse to speak to the DA until after I had an opportunity to speak with my own counsel. I would also consider having my own counsel present during any such conversation.

  7. Anonymous says:

    DWDad, thanks for clarifying my question about privilege! Can you comment if there is a legal obligation to answer the email along with the questions posed based on the Open Meetings Act? I agree with your point about speaking to the DA and having counsel present.

  8. DwDad, Would you say that it was highly irregular for the DA, the people’s legal representation, to have the ones being investigated in this matter stand behind him? Since you are knowledgeable in this area, is there any way possible for the people to have a say in this?

    The one thing that I don’t understand. Did the Grand Jury meet and decide not to investigate or did the DA decide that the BOE can police themselves and there is no need for an investigation? I heard Tom Bowen at the BOE meeting last week thank the Grand Jurors for doing the right thing. I thought there was NO grand jury empaneled. Can someone explain this more clearly? The media stories as well as the two who DID talk with the DA, Bowen and Walker don’t quite explain this completely.

  9. All I know is I found it very creepy that Dr Walker was standing behind DA James during the announcement. Very. Creepy.

  10. Former paralegal says:

    Every two months, as I understand it, there is a new grand jury. They mostly indite people for crimes. In GA, all felonies have to have a grand jury indictment. Grand Juries are also, in GA, charged with overseeing prison/jail conditions, and so across the state, each grand jury visits and assesses the jail/prison once during their term. In addition, grand juries investigate government activities and can choose to make recommendations.

    It is up to the DA to convene a special grand jury to further investigate what the regular grand jury finds. I think the DA has to convince a judge that a special grand jury is merited because there are $ costs involved.

    The DA has announced that each grand jury will now be hearing from representatives from the school board to see if they are doing what they need to be doing.

    The big question here is have they violated the law or are they just incompetent. Incompetence can lead to criminal behavior but it doesn’t always.

  11. Brook-Dekalb Parent says:

    I just left a message at the phone number provided above. If my call is returned I will express our concerns about the DA and the BOE spending of Dekalb dollars.

  12. Brook-Dekalb Parent says:

    I also sent an email to Dr. Atkinson in response to her request for feedback on her strategic plan.
    http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/superintendent/excellence-in-education-plan
    I emphasized the need to make the audit publicly available and take it very seriously. An email campaign to her on this topic would let her know that citizens are watching (I said as much in my email).
    I’d be curios to hear what people at Dekalb School Watch make of the plan.

  13. Huh? says:

    From “A Citizen’s Guide to Open Government,” a guide to Georgia’s Sunshine Laws:

    Most meetings of entities covered by the Law must be open to the public.
    Whenever a quorum of the members of an agency (again, broadly defined)
    meets for the discussion or presentation of official business or policy or
    takes official action, the meeting must be open to the public. This means
    public officials may not exclude the public from fact-finding and purely
    deliberative sessions simply because no final action is taken or anticipated.
    Even meetings conducted by written, telephonic, electronic, wireless or other
    virtual means must be open.

    Courts have held that committee meetings relating to policy or official
    business must be open to the public. The courts have also stated that a
    committee need not be exclusively composed of members of the agency to
    be deemed an “agency” subject to the Law. Any official action of any type
    taken at a meeting which is not open is invalid, and may be set aside if an
    action is brought promptly.

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