The last time a recall effort was initiated in Fayette County it was County Commissioner Robert Horgan in the crosshairs. This month, another such effort has begun to recall Fayette County Board of Education member Bob Todd.
Tyrone resident Melissa Hill is heading the recall effort, citing ethics violations as the reason for her action. Though the recall effort is specifically aimed at Todd, Hill said she would prefer the recall effort to extend to nearly all school board members.
Hill alleges that Todd violated a model ethics code and standards set by the Georgia Department of Education by criticizing school Superintendent Jeff Bearden’s leadership and by telling some unnamed “citizens” that Bearden would be fired when a new board majority takes office in January.
“Dr. Bob Todd is being recalled for failing to adhere to the (Ga. Dept. of Education) Standards for Effective Governance of School Systems, as set forth by the Georgia Department of Education. Dr. Todd, in a letter to the editor of The Citizen newspaper published July 24, 2012, publicly criticized the leadership and fiscal governance of Dr. Jeff Bearden,” Hill said in a statement submitted to The Citizen.
“In addition, Dr. Todd privately told citizens that Dr. Bearden would be terminated after the upcoming election, when Dr. Barry Marchman takes office and when Terri Smith is defeated by her opponent. In doing so, Todd violated the following sections of the Local Board of Education Model Code of Ethics, in which each board member agrees he or she will: (1) Not undermine the authority of the local superintendent or intrude into responsibilities that properly belong to the superintendent [Domain III, no. 5]. (3) Take no action that will compromise the board or school system administration. [Conduct of Board Member, no. 4]. Dr. Todd’s actions have contributed to the current dysfunctional state of affairs of the Fayette County Board of Education as well as to the termination of Dr. Bearden, costing taxpayers approximately $200,000 for Dr. Bearden’s termination package,” Hill said.
Contacted Tuesday about the pending recall effort, Todd said he preferred to withhold comment until he has received verification from the elections office, though he agreed to offer an initial comment on the issue.
“As an elected member of the Fayette County Board of Education, I have a fiduciary responsibility to all the citizens of this county to see that we have a balanced budget that is fiscally sound and to operate the school system at maximum efficiency. I intend to continue to fulfill those responsibilities until someone tells me that is not my top priority,” Todd said.
Hill insisted that her intent to recall Todd has nothing to do with Todd’s recent call to look at the potential closure of elementary schools in Tyrone and Brooks as a part of the school system’s identified need to trim up to $20 million from next school year’s budget.
As for recalls, there is more to the story than Hill’s attempt to recall Todd. If she had her way, nearly all the school board members would be recalled. The one exception is Chairman Leonard Presberg, Hill said.
As for her reasons, Hill said she is upset with Todd and board members Marion Key, Terri Smith and Janet Smola for the way the recent mutual termination agreement with Superintendent Jeff Bearden was handled. Bearden in the agreement was given a year’s salary and benefits totaling approximately $200,000 without an explanation of why the agreement was reached, Hill said. It seemed as if they were hiding something, Hill added.
And though she would like to initiate recall efforts against Smola, Key and Smith, Hill said that to recall Smola is not relevant since she will be leaving office in December. As for Key, Hill cited state law saying that recall efforts cannot be initiated 180 days before the end of a term or after the beginning of a term. Key’s new term begins in January. Hill said after the initial 180 days she might start a recall effort against Key.
And as for Smith, Hill said she would wait for the outcome of the Nov. 6 election where Smith will face challenger Mary Kay Bacallao.
The recall of an elected official in Georgia is a three-step process, the first of which is to apply for a recall petition, to name a chairperson, cite a reason for the recall efforts and provide the signatures of 100 people who were registered to vote in the preceding election.
Fayette County Elections Supervisor Tom Sawyer confirmed that the application and required number of signatures was received by his office. Sawyer at press time was in process of verifying the signatures.
Recall efforts in Georgia must fall under at least one of five categories. Hill cited misconduct in office — an unlawful act committed willfully or a willful violation of the state’s code of ethics for government service.
If the application is found sufficient by the elections office, the recall petition can go forward and will require the signatures of 30 percent of the active voters registered and eligible to vote in the preceding election. In Fayette County, that number will require more than 21,000 signatures. Those signatures must be obtained within 45 days of the time the petition was issued. If found sufficient, it will trigger a recall election.
State law provides a process for elected officials to essentially challenge the reasons stated in the recall application. If this is done, Todd would petition the Fayette County Superior Court to review the sufficiency of the grounds for recall and the facts asserted in support of the grounds for recall. If taken to Superior Court for such a review, the process of obtaining recall signatures would be put on hold until the court completes its work.
If the grounds for the recall are found sufficient, the recall proceedings will continue. If ruled insufficient by the court, a discretionary appeal can be filed with the Georgia Supreme Court by the recall supporters.