The July 6 front page story in the Douglas County Sentinel by Haisten Willis “Kelley: BOE must speak with one voice” revealed an “ethics code” adopted by the State and Douglas County Board of Education that is not only unethical, it is unconstitutional.
The 2010 legislation passed by the Georgia General Assembly (SB-84) requires the state board of education and local boards to establish and adopt model ethics rules. In these rule under the heading “Board Meetings” rule #7 states, “Express opinions before votes are cast, but after the board vote, abide by and support all majority decisions of the board.”
Janet Kelley, Douglas County School Board Chairperson, should be outraged that this code is being interpreted to limit the free speech rights of board members. We expect board members to be able to bring up issues, debate them publicly, and even be a dissenting voice against the majority. We expect them to explain to us and the media why they oppose or support a particular issue and not be intimidated but some arbitrary and capricious rule.
The government can not force a person to support an issue or idea he/she disagrees with and certainly can not prohibit the expression of opposition under the guise of an “ethics rule.”
Not only does the U.S. Constitution prohibit abridging the freedom of speech, the Georgia State Constitution states,
“No law shall be passed to curtail or restrain the freedom of speech or of the press. Every person may speak, write, and publish sentiments on all subjects but shall be responsible for the abuse of that liberty.”
Dissent is particularly protected by the Bill of Rights. Even the U.S. Supreme Court publishes a majority and minority opinion on issues before the court. It is important that we as a nation be allowed to hear all sides of the issues. Perhaps by understanding each side’s opinion we can be persuaded to support or reject the former position.
The question now is what will happen to a board member who calls a press conference to explain to the public and media why he voted against the majority. Will ethics charges be brought against him? Will he be reprimanded or publicly humiliated?
Board members are elected to represent their constituents. We do not expect board members to speak with one voice. We do expect our elected officials to speak up and speak out on public issues. This censorship is not imposed on other entities.
If public officials can not express themselves freely, they might as well be replaced with robots. They certainly need a lesson in Constitutional Rights.
Lithia Springs, Ga.