A citizen investigative panel will not be called to investigate alleged improprieties by DeKalb County school board members, but District Attorney Robert James said he believes he negotiated safeguards that should put taxpayers at ease.
"There are issues that have merit, but I do not believe that they merit a full-blown special grand jury investigation," James said at a news conference Friday.
"I believe that these are things the school system can take care of themselves as long as someone is watching to make sure that they are making the appropriate progress."
James said measures to ensure proper board behaviorinclude:
-- Chairman Eugene Walker and Vice Chairman Tom Bowen or Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson will make progress reports to each grand jury regarding policies to address, and monitoring of, concerns outlined by a recent grand jury. (A new one, comprising county residents, is empaneled bimonthly.)
-- School board members suspected of "leaking" sensitive information to the public would be investigated by the board as a whole, with potential referral to law enforcement.
-- School system staff would be required to disclose outside employment and could be fired if they don't.
-- School system employees except the superintendent would be prohibited from discussing school business with school board members.
James called the news conference to address concerns outlined in a Dec. 29 grand jury presentment. The report asked for an investigation of several things, including: "the perception of nepotism" and school board member influence on personnel decisions involving "friends and family," and any use of school funds to promote the recent referendum on a school facilities sales tax.
School systems can provide information about the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, but cannot legally lobby for or against it.
The grand jury asked for preventive policies and procedures and also an investigation "to determine if past actions to hire and retain (protect) school system employees" occurred.
Gil Hearn, a Dunwoody parent, was unimpressed with James' announcement Friday.
"I believe there is plenty of evidence that a further investigation should be done, and clearly it is not going to come from the district attorney's office," said Hearn. He organized a watchdog group last summer called Parents for DeKalb Schools, after a leading candidate for superintendent dropped from contention after details about her potential contract were publicly revealed.
James said he found "things that one could characterize as troublesome" but not evidence of illegal activity. He said his review was conducted mainly through discussions with school board members, "but in terms of launching a full-fledged investigation about each and every allegation of a school board member interfering in the day-to-day operations of the school system, we did not do that."
James said he was more concerned with protections against future violations.
Board members Walker and Bowen attended the news conference.
"We did not identify any overt influence in personnel matters," Walker said. "We're saying this one is over and in the next instance we'll try to exercise more due diligence."
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