Chair denies improper act on charter vote
by Liz Marino
lmarino@mdjonline.com
October 19, 2012 01:18 AM | 1808 views | 4 4 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lithia Springs activist James Bell filed a complaint with the state attorney general last week alleging the Douglas County Board of Education and Superintendent Gordon Pritz acted improperly by using public resources to take a public stand on a ballot question.

However, school board chairwoman Janet Kelley denied any wrongdoing by the board and stated that “no public resources were used to exhort the voters.”

Bell, director of the Douglas County-based Georgia Taxpayers Alliance, filed the complaint after the board passed a resolution opposing the charter school amendment to the state constitution, which is part of the Nov. 6 ballot.

Board members approved the resolution 4-1 earlier this month with District 1 Board Member Mike Miller opposing the resolution.

“I therefore request that your office initiate an investigation into this matter and determine if any laws were broken by the Douglas County Board of Education,” Bell stated in his complaint to State Attorney General Sam Olens.

“The school board cannot undo their actions; the harm has been done. The voters and taxpayers of this state expect to hold elections and make decisions without government officials attempting to influence elections using public funds and resources.

“The board’s action in passing this resolution was done to generate media attention in an attempt to influence the voters to reject the ballot question.”

State School Superintendent John Barge had requested advice from the state attorney general regarding the use of taxpayer resources by local schools to advocate for or against the charter school amendment.

Olens restated to Barge “… what the Georgia Supreme Court made clear 30 years ago: local governments cannot expend taxpayer resources to tell taxpayers how to vote.”

Olens said the rule applies equally to supporters and opponents of the amendment.

The attorney general also stated in his letter that the rule “also only applies to the expenditure of public resources — government officials and employees have full First Amendment rights to express their personal opinions

“They simply don’t have a right, under the First Amendment or any other legal provision, to expend public resources in communicating their personal opinions.”

According to Kelley, “Our resolution does not involve any advocacy to our electors. The attorney general’s letter makes a clear distinction, based on law and previous cases, between advocacy directed at legislators and advocacy directed at voters.

“The Douglas County Board of Educations’s resolution stands on firm legal ground, according to this letter.”
Comments
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cobb teacher
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October 19, 2012
NO public school employee should be neutral on this Amendment! This amendment is NOT about charter schools, parent choice, or students!! It is only about money and power! If it passes, it WILL hurt public schools, public school employees, and MOST IMPORTANTLY our children!
anonymous
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October 19, 2012
It would seem that any public official should be able to speak freely as how it relates to their constituents and their work in protecting the public assets.

Sam Olens may think of himself as very coy but he has taken a bite of an apple that he will regret. Trying to shut up free speech and opposition just does not sit well with most Americans.
teacherheather
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October 19, 2012
Then if that's the case, teachers should be able to mention what political party they are with and what God they serve in their classrooms. I think we have to be careful about blurring the lines. As an educator, we have to be neutral in certain respects so that people can be free thinkers. We give them facts and they make educated solutions. If not, we brainwash people into thinking what we think.
anonymous
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October 19, 2012
So, suppose you have a board that wants to express an opinion about any election matter. Take the current presidential candidates for example.

Should the board have the free speech right to advocate for one candidate over the other using while using public facilities, staff, etc. for their meeting?

NO!!!!!!!!! Don't use my tax dollars to influence voting.

The public official, acting as an individual, can exercise their Freedom of Speech Right all they want, and as Olens rightly states. Do so on the street corner, not in the board of education board room.
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