May 1, 2023 - Education

DeKalb BOE member accused of violating policy by divulging superintendent search details

Illustration of a gavel on a book instead of a block.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

DeKalb County Board of Education members are poised to schedule a hearing to determine if one of their colleagues violated its executive session policy.

The backdrop: At issue is whether board member Dr. Joyce Morley violated policy when she told the AJC about the search for the district's next superintendent.

  • Morley claimed interim superintendent Vasanne Tinsley had been ranked higher by a search firm and that Dr. Devon Horton, who was selected as the finalist for the role, wasn't among its top five candidates.
  • Despite her assertions, the board voted 6-1 last month to officially hire Horton, with Morley in opposition.

What's happening: At a meeting last week, board members voted unanimously to consider an "alleged violation of the board’s policy concerning failure to maintain the confidentiality of matters discussed during the executive session," the school district said in a statement.

Of note: According to Decaturish, board members didn’t initially say what they were voting on.

  • A district spokesperson later issued the statement spelling out the subject of the vote.
  • The hearing has not been scheduled, district press secretary Donald Porter told Axios.

What they’re saying: Morley told Axios on Friday that she thinks the decision is "retaliatory," alleging "they've been after me because I speak up."

  • "When you have a board that's willing to continue to go after a particular board member ... that's a problem," she said.
  • When Axios asked Morley why she shared the details of what was discussed in the closed session, she said "the public has the right to know the truth."

Be smart: Georgia’s Open Meetings Act gives governments and other boards the ability to hold closed-door sessions to discuss litigation, real estate and personnel matters. Local boards of education are additionally allowed to consider student discipline concerns.

  • If any action is required after the session, the elected officials are required to vote in an open meeting on the agenda item.

​​Between the lines: Richard Griffiths, a media ethicist and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, told Axios that the act does not impose penalties for anyone who shares what was discussed in executive session, but said Morley could "take some heat" if she did violate the board's policy.

  • "For a board to take actions against one of the members ... for outing their shenanigans, is deeply disturbing to me," he said.

What's next: The board's policy requires it to provide a 30-day notice for the hearing.

  • At least two-thirds of the members have to determine if Morley violated the policy. If that's the case, the board can censure her, publicly repudiate her comments, require her to make a public apology or report her to the district's accreditation agency.

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