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First on 3: Muscogee school board member calls for investigation

Posted: Updated: Mar 11, 2014 10:59 AM
COLUMBUS, Ga. - FIRST ON WRBL NEWS 3: Muscogee County School District Board of Education member Cathy Williams is asking the attorney general of Georgia to investigate the conduct of a 2013 school board meeting, a letter obtained exclusively by WRBL News 3 Tuesday states. In the letter dated January 2, Williams, who currently serves as an "at-large member" of the board, calls on the Attorney General Sam Olens to investigate the legality of an executive session called by the school board on February 18, 2013. 

In the letter, Williams said the executive session was called in order to discuss whether there had been any criminal conduct by State Senator Josh McKoon and local political consultant Frank Myers. Both men are critics of the board's six-decade-old "no bid contract" relationship with law firm Hatcher Stubbs. Some board members said McKoon and Myers threatened retaliation against them if the relationship with the law firm continued. The GBI found no wrongdoing but Williams said the investigation she wants surrounds the transparency of the board's discussion.

"When you use executive privilege what you're doing is excluding the public from the conversation and that should be done on a very limited basis," Williams told WRBL News 3 Wednesday in her first interview since writing the letter.

Williams claims the executive session may have been improperly called and a vote was inappropriately taken during that time. She writes in part:

"The first order of business of the executive session was for legal counsel present to declare that the legal matter was whether there had been any criminal conduct by Mr. Josh McKoon and Mr. Frank Myers. The attorney present then declared that there was a conflict of interest with the firm and they could not advise us on the issue. During that executive session consensus was reached by a majority of the board to contact [Columbus] Chief of Police Ricky Boren over the allegations that Mr. Josh McKoon and Mr. Frank Myers had threatened one or more board members. A six-month probe by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation followed. The GBI concluded there was no wrongdoing."

Web Extra: Click Here to read William's entire letter (pdf)

She goes on to write:

"I am concerned that the February 18th executive session was improperly called, that the discussion was outside the legitimate scope of the executive session, and that the vote was inappropriately taken in executive session, so that, as a result, Georgia civil or criminal law may have been violated."

In the letter, Williams also accuses Muscogee County schools Board of Education Chairman Rob Varner and then-Superintendent John Phillips of providing false information to the GBI. She does not provide details on how the two may have been done.

In a statement released to WRBL News 3 Wednesday, Varner says:

"I have not seen Ms. Williams' recent letter to the Attorney General, which apparently was sent late last week, thus I am only able to react to what I have heard from a media report... I do know that shortly after the meeting in question Ms. Williams raised concerns about whether or not the discussion in executive session was appropriate... During a private meeting with legal counsel, she requested that they seek another opinion about the propriety of the executive session discussion, by asking for an opinion from the State Attorney General's office.  On March 25th, a 3 page letter was sent from our legal counsel to the Attorney General's office, explaining the situation and seeking an opinion. That was the last I heard about the issue until I was contacted by a media outlet yesterday. I do not believe the Board's executive session discussion last February violated the Open Meetings Act."

He goes on to say: "
Also, I learned for the first time yesterday that Ms. Williams is now accusing me of providing a false report to the investigating officer from the GBI, who investigated concerns about whether or not certain Board members were subjected to inappropriate pressure concerning matters before the Board.  Ms. Williams' suggestion or accusation that I provided false information to the GBI is absolutely incorrect." 

Phillips also denies the allegations but did not wish to speak further on the matter.

Myers said he hopes for a fair process if the attorney general's office does look into the matter.

"The same standard be used in this investigation that was used in the bogus investigation that was brought against McKoon and myself and let the chips fall where they may," he said.

The Attorney General's office has received the letter but in an emailed response a spokesperson said they could not comment any further on the matter.

WRBL News 3's Phil Scoggins contributed to this report.

Naomi Keitt

Naomi Keitt focuses on education reporting for WRBL News 3. More>>

Phil Scoggins

After taking 16-year break from broadcasting, Phil rejoined WRBL as a news anchor where he has been ever since. More>>

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