The DeKalb County Board of Education tabled the discussion of a proposed ethics policy this month after board member Gene Walker angrily told the board it was acquiescing too easily to board critics.
“I’m deeply offended by you all feeling that there’s such urgency behind this,” Walker told the board Dec. 7. “We ought to throw this in the trash.”
The board had planned to discuss an ethics policy written by the school district but not vote on it, board Chair Thomas Bowen said. The policy appeared to be a direct response to an announcement last month from state Rep. Kevin Levitas, D-Atlanta, who said he intended to file legislation that would subject the school district to a new ethics commission designed to prevent school board members from serving with conflicts of interest.
The announcement essentially singled out Walker’s former chairmanship of the county’s Development Authority. In August, Walker resigned from the authority, which oversees deals with local developers and promotes economic growth and job creation countywide.
Residents criticized the board member for accepting more than $21,000 in school board campaign contributions from Sembler, a St. Petersburg, Fla., developer, last year. Walker, who chaired the authority, found himself in the middle of a dispute over whether Sembler deserved a tax abatement worth more than $40 million over 20 years to build Town Brookhaven, a 600,000-square-foot, mixed-use development near Oglethorpe University.
No details regarding the district ethics policy were released publicly. When the board reached the agenda item, Walker referred to Levitas, as “a legislator of no standing,” and chastised the board for considering the proposed policy.
He said Levitas’ bill is not sponsored by other legislators and will likely die before it’s given consideration.
“Thousands of bills are introduced every year by wannabes,” Walker said.
He said if the board and the district wanted to consider an ethics policy it should go through a school board committee. It was unclear at the school board meeting when and if the board would pick up the issue again.
Levitas’ bill, called the DeKalb School Board Transparency Act, would provide a code of ethics and establish an ethics commission. It would also provide a list of prohibited practices for board members and require deeper disclosures about potential conflicts of interest.
Walker said last month he has not spoken to Levitas about the legislation and called the lawmaker’s efforts “frivolous.” He has said he resigned from the authority because he and other authority members felt he had become a distraction.
“Every contribution I receive I report on a financial disclosure statement, and universally, every place, transparency or full disclosure is the anecdote for the appearance of a conflict of interest,” he said last month. “There’s much more important things [Levitas] should be working on.”
Levitas’ bill will be assigned a number and then referred to a House committee when the General Assembly convenes in January.