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Chairwoman denies school board acted improperly on charter amendment vote
by Liz Marino
October 17, 2012 03:20 PM | 1861 views | 1 1 comments | 18 18 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.”

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