Originally created 02/11/06

Ethics code OK'd amid tensions



Board members were ruled out of order and had to be reminded not to address each other Thursday night, but the Richmond County school board's newly adopted code of ethics could reduce all that.

"We need to practice good boardmanship and (Thursday) night was not an example of good boardmanship," board member Ken Echols said Friday. "We're not going to always agree, but we can disagree in a positive way."

The tense discussions preceded the board's approval of the code of ethics, which lays out how board members are expected to conduct themselves.

The policy requires each board member to sign a pledge to abide by the code of ethics.

The board "took a step backwards" Thursday, Mr. Echols said, adding that board members should set aside their personal agendas.

The code of ethics outlines the roles and responsibilities of board members. Some school boards in Georgia have put HOPE scholarships in jeopardy for their students by not adhering to their proper roles. The Southern Association of Colleges of Schools, the accrediting agency of many school systems, including Richmond County, has threatened to revoke accreditation of systems where board members overstep their bounds. School systems must be accredited in order for students to be eligible for the HOPE scholarship.

In other business, the board agreed to sell its Lake Forest Elementary School property to Morris Real Estate Holdings, LLC for $2.1 million. The school system will spend about $500,000 for asbestos abatement at the property as part of the deal.

In the future, how the school board sells surplus land such as this could change. A policy was drafted that would move the system away from handling the sales through a "gentleman's agreement."

The policy, which was presented Thursday for the board to consider at its next meeting, would permit school officials to go through a bidding process for appropriate property sales, rather than only using the first come, first served approach of selling land as it does now.

Board President Marion Barnes said he was concerned that not everyone in the public knew when surplus property was being sold, adding that it was only fair to put land out to bid.

"I think that will keep the suspicion of improprieties away from our staff and from our board," he said.

The policy would also require that all surplus land be advertised in the local media and area developers be contacted.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.