Special ethics attorney speaks to MCSB before accreditation is reviewed

Public hears from independent counsel on potential MCSB ethics issues
Updated: Oct. 17, 2017 at 1:12 AM EDT
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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - For the first time, members of the Muscogee County School Board publicly heard from a special independent counsel hired to look into potential ethics issues that some board members believe may jeopardize the school district's accreditation.

Charles Cox, an attorney from Macon, spoke before the board saying he had met with most board members individually and heard their concerns over their own behavior, among other things.

During his presentation, Cox made it a point to review state school board laws and regulations to establish what board members should know going into October's accreditation review.

More specifically, Cox focused on four areas of concern: 

First, reminding board members of their roles as defined by state statutes. 

Second, communicating with other board members and the superintendent per the state's code of ethics.

Next, following policy regarding keeping executive discussion matters private and honoring attorney-client privilege. 

And last, highlighting that board member cannot individually or collectively hire or fire district employees. Only the superintendent is granted that authority, but board members are allows to vote on employee recommendations proposed by the superintendent.

Cox said each board member must be familiar and in compliance with both local and Georgia codes of ethics for school boards. More specifically, Cox referenced a law that states individual board members cannot share privileged information shared during the executive session unless a majority of the board approves that action.

Board member Frank Myers thanked Cox for his time but said he disagrees on what information should or should not be discussed in public.

"I didn't just take an oath to be a school board member," Myers said, I took an oath to be a lawyer.  If there's something that goes on in that back room, that I think violates a criminal law, I'm going to report it, and I'm going to repeat that. That will not change."

Before Myers made his comment, Cox said he did not want to call out specific members for what they should or should not do and only wants to offer an outsider's perspective.

Several board members have previously stated they think both Myers and John Thomas may have violated the district's code of ethics by attempting to assist attorneys representing Montravious Thomas, a student whose leg was amputated after he was reportedly body-slammed at an alternative school in September 2016.

Board member Cathy Williams countered Myers' comment, saying she's not heard any conversation that violates the law during executive session in her time serving on the board.

Fellow member Laurie McRae responded to Cox's observations about creating a collaborative, cordial environment among the board.

She told Cox the board will continue to disagree on many issues, but she hopes there's a change in how members disagree in the future.

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