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DeKalb School Board accuses member Joyce Morley of violating ethics code

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DeKalb School Board accuses member Joyce Morley of violating ethics code

DeKalb County School Board member Dr. Joyce Morley virtually attends the boards regular meeting on May 9, 2022. Photo by Dean Hesse.

DeKalb County, GA — The DeKalb County School Board held a special called meeting on April 26 and formally accused board member Dr. Joyce Morley of violating the district’s ethics code.

The school board initially declined to reveal what it had voted on during that meeting. Following pressure from Decaturish, and an inquiry by the state Attorney General, the board released a vague statement concerning a possible violation of board policy.

“The Board voted on April 26, 2023, at a called meeting to move forward with a personnel action discussed in Executive Session,” Board Chair Diijon DaCosta said. “This action will result in the preparation of a notice of hearing regarding an alleged violation of the Board’s policy concerning failure to maintain the confidentiality of matters discussed during the Executive Session.”

A recent Decaturish editorial noted Morley may have run afoul of the district’s ethics code when she disclosed private conversations that occurred in executive session to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Those conversations were about hiring Dr. Devon Horton as the district’s new superintendent.

Morley confirmed she was the target of the alleged ethics violation in a follow-up interview with the AJC.

Morley did not appear to be at that April 26 meeting, though she said she tried to attend virtually but could not speak due to technical difficulties. Morley would not have been allowed to vote at that meeting under the school district’s ethics code.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Morley told the AJC, calling the experience of serving on the school board a “hellacious journey.”

“They have been after me for the last eight years, the people on this board,” Morley told the AJC.

The AJC didn’t attend the April 26 meeting. Decaturish is the only media outlet that attended the April 26 meeting and the only outlet, so far, that has pushed for transparency about what the board voted on. Decaturish is also the only outlet to point out that Morley may have violated the district’s ethics code by talking to the AJC about what occurred in closed-door executive sessions about hiring the next superintendent.

The district’s ethics code says board members shall, “Maintain the confidentiality of all discussions and other matters pertaining to the Board and the School District, during executive session of the Board.”

The board ultimately voted 6-1 to hire Horton, with Morley voting “no” after giving a lengthy speech calling his hiring a “grave mistake.”

This is not the first time Morley has been accused of undermining a superintendent search. Rudy Crew, a finalist for superintendent who never got the job after the board decided not to hire him, won a $750,000 settlement after accusing the school board of discrimination. In the suit, Crew, who is Black, accused Dr. Morley of making comments about Crew’s late wife being white.

During the press conference following the vote to hire Horton, Decaturish asked DaCosta about whether Morley would face consequences for divulging the contents of an executive session to the AJC.

“The board will be handling every situation … according to our board policy and also state law,” he said.

According to the school board’s ethics code, a board member who believes that another board member has violated the ethics policy can ask the board chair to call an executive session of the board. The school board held a closed-door executive session before voting to formally accuse Morley of ethics violations.

The ethics code requires 10 days’ notice of the session to all board members. A vote to charge a board member with a violation of the board’s ethics policy has to occur in an open meeting and requires a vote of 2/3 of the board members. The accused can’t vote in the proceeding.

The next step in the process will be holding a hearing on the charges against Dr. Morley, which requires at least 30 calendar days’ notice of the time, date, and place of the hearing provided to all board members. Dr. Morley can hire legal representation at her own expense.

“The parties by agreement may stipulate that some disinterested member of the State Bar of Georgia shall decide all questions of evidence and other legal issues arising in the hearing,” the school board’s ethics code says. “At the hearing, both the board and the accused may call and cross-examine witnesses.  The burden of proof shall be on the board to establish the alleged violation by a preponderance of the evidence. The hearing shall be open to the public while the board is receiving evidence or hearing argument.”

At least 2/3 of the board members conducting the hearing would have to vote to find Morley committed the violation and impose sanctions. Morley would not be allowed to vote in that scenario. That vote will have to be taken in public.

If Morley is found to have violated the board’s ethics code, she potentially faces:

— Censure or reprimand

— The board publicly disavowing Morley’s improper acts or statements

— The board asking Morley for a public apology

— The board reporting Morley to the school district’s accrediting agency

“A Board member subject to sanction may, within thirty (30) days of such sanction vote, appeal such decision to the State Board of Education in accordance with the rules and regulations of the State Board of Education,” the board’s ethics code says. “A record of the decision of the Board to sanction a Board member for a violation of this Code of Ethics shall be placed in the permanent minutes of the Board.”

This breaking story will be updated when more information is available.

Sara Amis contributed reporting to this story. 

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