Gwinnett, state teachers associations battle over officer elections



A professional organization representing teachers and other employees of Gwinnett County Public Schools has sued its statewide counterpart, escalating a years-long feud over officer elections.

The Gwinnett County Association of Educators seeks an injunction to prevent the Georgia Association of Educators from installing new officers to lead the Gwinnett organization, after the statewide association last month held a special election on the Gwinnett chapter’s behalf.

At stake is the leadership of the organization that speaks and advocates for teachers and support staff in Gwinnett County Public Schools, the closest thing to a teachers union possible under state law.

The Gwinnett organization, which is not incorporated, has more than 1,000 members. The statewide organization is headquartered in Tucker, in DeKalb County. Both are affiliated with the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country.

In the complaint, filed Wednesday in DeKalb County Superior Court, the Gwinnett group says the statewide organization has no authority over its elections.

“Nullifying GCAE’s election and conducting a special election in its place goes well beyond GAE’s powers and violates the Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code,” said the attorney representing the Gwinnett employees, Derin B. Dickerson, in a letter last week to the statewide organization.

The Gwinnett organization’s election committee in August disqualified Brian Westlake, a high school teacher and nominee for president, because he’d begun campaigning before the campaigning period, according to the lawsuit. The Gwinnett organization went on to hold its leadership election that month.

Westlake filed complaints with the Gwinnett and statewide organizations about the election process and the management of the Gwinnett County Educators Association, according to the lawsuit.

The Georgia Association of Educators held a hearing in October to review Westlake’s challenge to the election procedures, though the Gwinnett organization’s executive board had demanded the hearing’s cancellation because they were only given nine days notice.

After the hearing, a committee of the statewide organization voided the election in Gwinnett and said it would administer a new one. In a letter, the statewide organization said the Gwinnett group improperly disqualified Westlake, used an insecure elections platform and allowed people to run who were term-limited.

The Gwinnett organization appealed the elections committee’s decision Nov. 16 to Lisa Morgan, president of the Georgia Association of Educators. The appeal was signed by Jeanette Kimber and Antwyne Haywood as co-presidents. The special election ended Nov. 24 and none of the winners are the same as those elected in August, according to the lawsuit.

The new officers were scheduled to be installed Dec. 1, but Georgia Association of Educators spokesman Kevin Pearson would not say Friday who won or whether they have been sworn in.

In a prepared statement, Mike McGonigle, general counsel for the statewide organization, said, “GAE will continue to stand by the right of members to determine their leadership through free and fair election processes.”

Westlake was also disqualified from running for president two years ago. He challenged the election procedures then and the Georgia Association of Educators held a new election, but in its October letter, the statewide organization said the Gwinnett affiliate disregarded the results of that election.