Should education ties exclude legislators from voting on state takeover bill?

The president of the Georgia Federation of Teachers is questioning whether two Democratic legislators who voted for Gov. Nathan Deal's Opportunity School District Monday had a conflict of interest because of their educational ties.

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January 9, 2013 - Atlanta, Ga: The statue Miss Freedom sits atop of the gold dome of the Georgia State Capitol at dusk Wednesday evening in Atlanta, Ga., January 9, 2013. The Georgia Capitol completed in 1889, is only days away from the start of the 2013 Legislative Session in the House and Senate Chambers Monday January 14, 2013. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM The governor is scheduled to sign 10 education bills Thursday, but campus carry is not on the list. (AJC Photo.)

Credit: Maureen Downey

January 9, 2013 - Atlanta, Ga: The statue Miss Freedom sits atop of the gold dome of the Georgia State Capitol at dusk Wednesday evening in Atlanta, Ga., January 9, 2013. The Georgia Capitol completed in 1889, is only days away from the start of the 2013 Legislative Session in the House and Senate Chambers Monday January 14, 2013. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM The governor is scheduled to sign 10 education bills Thursday, but campus carry is not on the list. (AJC Photo.)

Credit: Maureen Downey

caption arrowCaption
January 9, 2013 - Atlanta, Ga: The statue Miss Freedom sits atop of the gold dome of the Georgia State Capitol at dusk Wednesday evening in Atlanta, Ga., January 9, 2013. The Georgia Capitol completed in 1889, is only days away from the start of the 2013 Legislative Session in the House and Senate Chambers Monday January 14, 2013. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM The governor is scheduled to sign 10 education bills Thursday, but campus carry is not on the list. (AJC Photo.)

Credit: Maureen Downey

Credit: Maureen Downey

In questioning Rep. Valencia Stovall, D-Lake City, Georgia Federation of Teachers President Verdaillia Turner attaches a portion of her bio that states:

Rep. Stovall's philanthropic work includes serving as the Board Chair of Scholars Academy Special State Charter School which she restructured the organization through strategic planning, real estate acquisition and development, directed financial and legal negotiations, implemented growth capital programs, personnel restructuring and development, reengineered business processes, instilled urgency for financial discipline, and capitalized on growth opportunities with local community partners.

In challenging state Rep. Mike Glanton, D-Jonesboro, Turner points to his position in a company that brings foreign teachers to Georgia. She attached an AJC investigation into the company's practices.

Glanton is the chief operating officer of Global Teachers Research and Resources, a Jonesboro company that has been cited by the U.S. Labor Department for forcing teachers to pay fees the company should pay.

Here is what Turner sent to Stacey Abrams, Georgia Minority House Leader:

I am not an attorney but we want to make sure that none of our elected officials are party to unethical behavior or have a conflict of interest per their vote.  Both of the following legislators voted YES to the OSD, Opportunity School District bill in the Education Committee on yesterday. Should not they have recused themselves?  Please see the attachments per Rep. Valencia Stovall and Rep. Mike Glanton. What is your opinion?

Additionally, there seems to be no need for a committee and a discussion of a bill per the public if at decision time legislators can walk into a committee meeting as Ex-Officio members and cast a vote. What's the remedy?

Thank you for taking the time to read this email and review the attachments.

My own take: Other legislators on the House Education Committee have connections to charter schools, and many have ties to traditional public schools. There are present and former educators on the committee.

So, I don't believe there was any conflict on the part of these two legislators on the state takeover bill.

As to former committee members being allowed to vote , a lot of people don't think that is a good idea.

I was surprised to hear House Education Committee Chair Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, instruct the clerk Monday to count the votes of ex officio members, a practice I thought was frowned upon by current House leadership.

(It was also odd given Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones' reminder to the committee earlier in the hearing that the public wants clarity and transparency in what lawmakers do. She was addressing how legislation is written but voters also value clarity and transparency in how legislation is passed.)

Oddly, Coleman assured the standing-room-only crowd Monday: "Only those on the committee can vote."

However, minutes later, when Coleman tallied a higher "Yes" count than the committee clerk,  he told her, "We have several ex officio members. They can vote."

When the clerk did not count the vote of one of the former members on hand, Coleman again told her to count him, saying, "Yes, he's a member. He's ex-officio."

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