DeKalb District Attorney Robert James announced Feb. 10 he would not convene a special grand jury to investigate the DeKalb County School Board.
The DeKalb Grand Jury released a presentment late December 2011, which outlined several concerns, including the board’s handling of SPLOST dollars, nepotism and alleged leaks that hindered the hiring of a new superintendent.
However, James said, after several months of investigating the allegations, his office determined the school board did not break any laws and there was no reason to launch a special grand jury investigation.
“After a thorough and extensive review of the facts I have found that no laws have been broken regarding the spending of SPLOST funds dollars by the DeKalb County School System,” James said. “A lot of the questions that were raised by the grand jury were issues dating back to one, two, three, four years and the school board had already started down the road to addressing some of these issues.”
However, James expressed concern with some of the items mentioned in the presentment, including school board members improperly attempting to influence personnel decisions and leaks that hindered the hiring process of the new superintendent.
“I’m confident that the new process and procedure being implemented by the school board will help to reassure taxpayers of this county that each elected board member is adhering to, and upholding, the highest ethical standards,” James said.
School Board Chairman Eugene Walker said the board has taken steps to implement stricter policies and harsher sanctions for ethics violations.
“There is a board ethics policy in place that aligns directly with the state’s board of ethics policy that prohibits leaking information from executive sessions and that policy provides sanctions,” Walker said.
The sanctions include censure of board members, a public apology if evidence indicates a member violated particular ethics policies and the possibility of criminal charges if an internal investigation warrants it.
In addition to those policies, Walker said, the board is also undergoing ethics training to address how the it should handle leaks if “even a hint of this type of thing occurs again.”
The presentment also mentioned nepotism and employee conflicts of interest. Walker said the board had implemented policies to address those issues as well and James said the board would make regular reports to the grand jury.
“They’re going to come back every term, which is once every two months, before the DeKalb County Grand Jury and have conversations with them about how things are going relative to the points that the previous grand jury raised,” James said. “At the point that any grand jury feels dissatisfied with the progress, we always have the option of exploring a special investigation in the future.”
School Board Vice Chairman Tom Bowen, who was chairman when the grand jury presented its findings, said the board has taken the grand jury’s recommendations very seriously.
“This is an ongoing process and we want DeKalb County voters to know that the board will continue to adopt strong policies to ensure your school district it effective, accountable and transparent,” Bowen said.