Ga. Supt. Kathy Cox named in E-SPLOST ethics complaint

Tue, 09/30/2008 - 3:49pm
By: Ben Nelms

Peachtree City resident David Cree filed a complaint Monday with the Georgia State Ethics Commission, charging that state School Superintendent Kathy Cox violated state ethics statutes during an Aug. 18 visit to Minter Elementary School in Fayette County by openly lobbying for the upcoming 1 cent sales tax (ESPLOST) vote and explaining to those present in the cafeteria how a political action committee could be formed on behalf of the initiative.

Cree maintains the ethics violation occurred while Cox was on a publicized official visit to Minter Elementary and two other county schools. A press release for the Minter visit said Cox would be visiting teachers and students, playing math games with third-graders and reading to second-graders after lunch. Cox lives in Fayette County and taught for years at McIntosh High School.

Prior to filing the ethics complaint, communications with Cree have come by way of Georgia Department of Education Communications and Marketing Director Matt Cordoza rather than from Cox as Cree had requested.

“While at lunch (at Minter Elementary) with school staff and members of the school’s PTO, Mrs. Cox did indeed tell those present that the upcoming ESPLOST (Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) on the November ballot must be passed and then proceeded to tell them this is what you need to do to get it done,” Cree said, also referencing a previous conversation with Cordoza.

Cree’s Sept. 15 email followed an Aug. 25 request to speak to Cox about the issue. “Your statement to me when we spoke Aug. 25, is that Mrs. Cox did indeed talk about the ESPLOST to those present at Sarah Harp Minter, but that she did it as a private citizen and resident of Fayette County.”

Cree in his Aug. 26 letter said that statements by Cox supporting the ballot initiative amounted to a conflict of interest.

“Your (Cardoza) reply to me was that, yes, she did speak to them about the SPLOST, but that she did it as a private citizen of Fayette County. I voiced a vehement objection that this was an ethics violation as she cannot do what she did as state superintendent of schools while on official state business visiting that school,” Cree said. “What she did was a conflict of interest, totally inappropriate and again, most unethical. Her job as state superintendent of schools is to remain neutral in such matters and especially so while on state official business.”

Cree has yet to hear from Cox, but did receive a Sept. 18 email from Cordoza. In his letter, Cordoza reiterated the position held by Cox, that she believes she is within her right to offer an opinion on the SPLOST initiative, adding that DOE attorneys upheld her position.

“Yes, Superintendent Cox is still holding to her position of supporting SPLOST in school systems. As I mentioned on the phone, she is a Fayette resident and believes SPLOST is a good way for school boards to raise money since out of county visitors end up paying a large portion of a SPLOST, rather than 100 percent of the burden on the property owners,” Cordoza said. “She has given her support to other school system SPLOST efforts around the state, too. She believes that as an elected official she is permitted to give her opinion about a public concern and there was nothing our lawyers were able to find that prevents her from expressing her opinion.”

Cree believes the actions by Cox likely violate Georgia Ethics in Government codes. Cree said in a Sept. 28 letter to Georgia Ethics Commission that using her governmental authority to advocate in favor of a school SPLOST in a school setting such as the one at Minter Elementary is an inappropriate and unethical use of government influence and funds in promoting the passage of such a ballot initiative.

“There is no doubt (Cox) was making those statements in her official governmental capacity. Her lobbying on the SPLOST went as far as to include a specific strategy for gaining voter approval by suggesting the PTO members in attendance create a political action committee,” Cree said. “There is no doubt she was making those statements in her official capacity. (Cox) utilized state travel and was accompanied by a member of her department staff. In addition, the appearance at our school was part of an official publicized tour of schools in several counties that particular day. Our own Fayette County Board of Education members cannot lobby for the passage of the SPLOST in their official capacities, so I have to wonder how Superintendent Cox feels as though she is exempt from those same laws within Georgia’s Ethics in Government Act.”

Cree requested that Cox be allowed to issue an apology for her lobbying efforts in the local newspapers in lieu of paying a fine if the ethics commission finds in his favor.

There has been no response from the state Ethics Commission since the complaint was just filed Monday afternoon.

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JAFO 72's picture
Submitted by JAFO 72 on Thu, 10/02/2008 - 11:00am.

Let me see...

1. $700 billion bail out, funded by the taxpayers. Anyone ever heard of bankruptcy?
2. Obamas proposed tax increases on corporations, which = everybody.
a. Remove taxes on the elderly, and those making less than $50K = middle class pays.
3. Increased homeowners tax, at least here in Fayette County.
4. Capital gains taxes
5. And E-splost.

Why can't the FCBOE utilize what is given to them and manage it effectively? Why can they not reach a resolution with the state to address existing issues regarding teacher pay, buses, class size, parapros etc?

If anyone else would like to come buy and reach into my wallet, I'll be home later this evening writing rubber checks. BOING!!!

“Every time you vote Democrat God kills a kitten.”

fayette77's picture
Submitted by fayette77 on Wed, 10/01/2008 - 9:42pm.

Is there any way Joe Taxpayer (me) can get my tax dollars back to promote voting against the E-SPLOST? Who's funding all these ugly red "YES" signs I'm starting to see around town? Are these done w/ my tax dollars by the BOE? Do I have to go to Kinko's to have my own "NO" sign made?

Submitted by RT Tugger on Thu, 10/02/2008 - 1:34pm.

I've had the same question about other pro-SPLOST materials. At two separate school open houses last month, parents got a pro-SPLOST information sheet shoved in their hand. I made an inquiry to find out who paid for the sheet. I was told a PTO officer had printed them at her own expense and that she was acting as a parent. Hmmm, wonder if I, as a parent, could print an anti-SPLOST sheet at my own expense and then hand them out at the next school-sponsored event? I just saw the first pro-SPLOST red sign in my neighborhood this morning. It made me want to head to Kinko's, too.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Thu, 10/02/2008 - 6:10am.

I would guess our tax dollars, or developers

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 10/01/2008 - 9:03pm.

More class rooms than the Fed gov will help pay for? Who will buy the 100 acreas around the schools...but devolopers?

Was this done with the honest, poor, meager, taxpayer or their child in mind?

These are not nasty questions....these are honest questions...that should be ...ANSWERED BY HONEST PEOPLE..

gelato's picture
Submitted by gelato on Wed, 10/01/2008 - 5:57am.

I can no longer afford to support the bad spending habits of the FCBOE. Terrible choices have been made and we as a community are being made to pay. As a person who has lived in this community for many years and have seen many of the promises made in the past by members of the FCBOE continue to be unfulfilled, I take offense at the way the SPLOST is being presented as a tool of benefit for our schools - when in fact it is nothing more than a scheme to get us out of the hole these buffoons have put us in. The lack of integrity, ethics and regard for the community has gone on too long, and we, FAYETTY COUNTY, need to take a stance, we need to be heard. Retirement has afforded me the time to educate myself about the promises made in the past, actions recently taken by FCBOE members, and I have come to the conclusion that a good number of them are self-serving, and have gambled with the assets we as tax payers invest in the county. They gambling has backfired, and once again they want to put their hands in our pockets. NO! I can't wait to get rid of all of you, but for now I will do my best to get rid of at least one. We need to band together as a community - I will be writing F I L E on the ballot - I need a change; we all need a change.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Wed, 10/01/2008 - 5:43pm.

I heard this today, and was really disapointed. I feel no one should be on the BOE or in any place of power with the schools when their husband is a developer and the schools are selling their excess land to developers...I don't care if they 'excuse themselves' from the vote. It still smacks of conflict of interest. Is there ..anyone.. that doesn't have ties to the developers? What is the name/names of the different LLC he has been a part of? Does anyone know?

How could we let this happen?

CCB's picture
Submitted by CCB on Wed, 10/01/2008 - 9:01pm.

What does it matter if her husband is a developer? Is he buying land from the local school board?

If you got something on him, then speak up. Otherwise, hush your trap!

Don't forget if it weren't for people in the development profession, you wouldn't have a house to blog from buddy.

There are some bad ones and Kathy Cox's husband isn't one of them. I'm not saying I agree with what Kathy did with the SPLOST as that was just plain wrong. She should've kept her trap shut too.

Submitted by Doug on Tue, 09/30/2008 - 10:35pm.

My friend was there when Kathy Cox lobbied for the SPLOST. She said Dr. DeCotis was present also.

I was told many of the school employees were in shock when Cox began her pro-SPLOST talk with parents in attendance. According to the article, there's not much doubt about what she did as the Cordoza fellow pretty much said that's what happened.

The mood of the school employees is changing because Mr. Sweat is browbeating them by saying the SPLOST had better pass and they were expected to vote. A couple of people are considering using federal whistle blower laws to put an end to the pressure from above.

alittlebirdietoldme's picture
Submitted by alittlebirdietoldme on Wed, 10/01/2008 - 4:47am.

Overpaid and useless...if we cut his salary that will save some FCBOE $$

Submitted by notjustcomplaining on Tue, 09/30/2008 - 9:25pm.

It is unethical for any employee of the Board of Education (state or local) to make a political statement on the taxpayers dime. Why? Because it would mean that they have a direct and unfair lobbying advantage, that's why. Because, employees might feel job pressure if they do not vote as they are told.

Guess what? It's not just Kathy Cox who is breaking the rules.
Others at the local level (Principals, BOE Members) are publicly
stating their opinions to employees in meetings and in written form.

Many of them have made derogatory comments about Nicole File - the Post 1 Writen-In Republican candidate who is opposing incumbent, Janet Smola for the Board of Education.

Tired of the same-old, same-old? Then, let's do something about it!
Vote Nicole File, Post 1 BOE Write-in. Her platform is Enough is Enough...No more blank checkbook - - Fiscal responsibility and Open Access to BOE Records.

Remember everyone - - the Clayton County BOE got canned not for their corrupt activities (of which there were many). Rather they were FIRED and caused a loss of accreditation due to lack of full disclosure of meetings, etc.....the same stuff your current administration says costs "thousands of dollars and man-hours to perform!)

The Wedge's picture
Submitted by The Wedge on Tue, 09/30/2008 - 8:24pm.

This political season has shown how me how to conduct a successful insurgency against a political opponent. Like Barack and his minions attack any group or network who puts out information counter to their campaign with threats of legal action, Mr Cree will attack individuals arrayed in favor of SPLOST. Use alleged impropriety or appearance of impropriety. Threaten legal action, regardless of the likelihood of actual action. The appearance of it is enough for the conspiracy theorists and the news hounds to keep the story going. It helps to have lots of free time as well. In other cases, it helps to not have your kids actually going to the public school system. Regardless of motivation, assume that your opponent is corrupt or stupid, or both.

suggarfoot's picture
Submitted by suggarfoot on Tue, 09/30/2008 - 9:14pm.

1. you scare the teachers with veiled threats...they are on the chopping block, never mind when school comes to mind, teachers are a must, useless upper crust jobs at BOE aren't!

2.Threaten legal action, regardless of the likelihood of actual action. The appearance of it is enough for the conspiracy theorists and the news hounds to keep the story going. It helps to have lots of free time as well.

3.In other cases, it helps to have your kids teaching in the public school system. Regardless of how... more... qualified some seasoned teachers from other systems may have been for the same job.

4. most of us by just watching do assume, some are indeed corrupt or stupid, or both!

The Wedge's picture
Submitted by The Wedge on Wed, 10/01/2008 - 6:42am.

The BOE is the organization pushing for the SPLOST. Since they are the elected government, they cannot be an insurgency.

Also, the pro-SPLOST side is not running a very effective campaign. The anti-Splost is much more effective. They are proving to be better campaigners. The campaign is mostly based on innuendo and appearances, but it is much more effective.

Submitted by head_ragg on Tue, 09/30/2008 - 5:12pm.

down my throat! I have also lost any respect I had for Kathy Cox. Her hawking this in the schools on our dime is revolting. We all have views on SPLOST, but you don't see any of us standing in the schools demanding equal time!

I am equally upset over hearing she was publicly bad mouthing Nicole File, saying something to the effect, if she gets elected, our schools will turn into another Clayton county! Isn't she over Clayton county schools too? Is that an apporprate comment to make about Nicole File when Nicole has gone out of her way not to bad mouth anyone else?

The more I see of some on the BOE, and people like Kathy uncouth Cox, the more I distrust them. I think they are earning that distrust, day by day.

My vote is my vote! When public officals are using their positions so openly to manipulate the people out of their God given right to make up their minds for themselves, they really look like slime.

Submitted by bowser on Tue, 09/30/2008 - 4:14pm.

Gee, I wonder if Mr. Cree would be spending state time and expense on his complaint if Ms. Cox had come down and told some teachers at lunch that she was against the SPLOST. On second thought, I think we know the answer to that.

Personally, since Ms. Cox is both a Fayette parent and someone with pretty deep experience, I’d think we’d be interested in hearing her viewpoint along with others. Then vote how you want to.

I also wish the Citizen would give as much space and effort to reporting the actual facts of the splost issue as it does to one-sided editorials and political squabbles. Does anyone at the Citizen ever actually talk to anyone at the school system???

Submitted by localyocal on Wed, 10/01/2008 - 6:05pm.

ATLANTA, Georgia (AP) -- The state's school superintendent has proposed striking the word evolution from Georgia's science curriculum and replacing it with the phrase "biological changes over time."

All the years of experience led to this, I'll make up my own mind without her help. Although she is a government employee pushing for more government money to spend, nah I'll pass.

CCB's picture
Submitted by CCB on Wed, 10/01/2008 - 12:07am.

The laws were written the way they were for a reason fool. How about turning your stupid comment around? What if she'd come down and lobbied against the SPLOST? Would you still be making stupid comments under this news story?

Mrs. Cox didn't provide her comments as a parent. She was there as the doggone state school superintendent! Duh!

If you don't like the state ethics laws, get them changed! Other wise stop whining. Sometimes I think you liberals always want to raise taxes just because you can.

diva's picture
Submitted by diva on Wed, 10/01/2008 - 8:55am.

WOO HOO to the grand majority of your "in your face" post. Couldn't agree more on how unethical it is for the top government school official to push SPLOST spelled T A X on an official visit.

I've gotta give you a "whut the?" on this one, though:

"Sometimes I think you liberals always want to raise taxes just because you can."

Hey, CCB: What political party gave us Kathy Cox? What political party do the folks on the board pushing SPLOST reside in?

Why is "liberal" always thrown around by youse guys whether it applies or not? Heck, y'all have tried to convince us that even our President and John McCain are brazier burning feminist liberals.... umm, no. They are products of R E P U B L I C A N support. Own what you bought.

meanoldconservatives's picture
Submitted by meanoldconservatives on Wed, 10/01/2008 - 10:38am.

Why is "liberal" always thrown around by youse guys whether it applies or not?

Another question might be.....why is someone who is such a loud, proud, angry liberal such as yourself sensitive to the "liberal" label and what that means????

To use your own unique phrase you so love to throw around.... Own what you bought.

Submitted by bowser on Wed, 10/01/2008 - 7:43am.

So how IS the law written, anyway? Mr. Cree asserts she violated some law or rule but doesn't cite it. Ms. Cox's spokesman said:

"She believes that as an elected official she is permitted to give her opinion about a public concern and there was nothing our lawyers were able to find that prevents her from expressing her opinion.”

Which leaves us ... nowhere. Except, of course, that the whiff of scandal is in the air and the anti-splosters are whipped into an even greater frenzy. Which is clearly the whole idea. Reminds me of the Great Air Show School Bus Scandal. Guilt by allegation. Vote F-I-L-E!!!!! Nah, don't think I will.

This article -- as is sadly typical of Citizen coverage of the bus non-issue and other school system "controversies" -- focuses on personalities and allegations rather than facts, which in this case would include citing the applicable statute.

Btw, last time I checked Ms. Cox was a conservative Republican, so I doubt she's the handmaiden of tax-loving liberals on this one. It could be she knows a thing or two about the financial challenges facing schools, and that she thinks pennywise would be pound foolish in the case of her home county's splost.

ps -- I like your picture. I voted for him twice.

Submitted by heatjam on Tue, 09/30/2008 - 5:01pm.

If Kathy Cox was at SHMES on official state business, which I believe that she was, then she should have kept her mouth shut on her FEELINGS about the SPLOST issue. Now, if she was there as a Fayette county citizen then she has the right to voice her opinion. The Administration at the schools as well as the PTOs can't use school equipment or $$ to promote the SPLOST (tax payer funded) so the State School superintendent most certainly should not be chatting it up (or down for that matter)

Submitted by head_ragg on Tue, 09/30/2008 - 5:17pm.

Kathy Cox out spelling a 7th grader and loaping around like a plow horse on TV, has gone straight to her head.

Submitted by wildcat on Tue, 09/30/2008 - 6:27pm.

How funny!! I needed a good laugh tonight!!

Submitted by head_ragg on Tue, 09/30/2008 - 7:14pm.

I want you and the other teachers to know, we respect you guys, but this is like they are holding you and the kids hostage to the ego of someone who just wants to prove themselves right. I wish they would give 100% mental health coverage to some on the BOE and maybe we wouldn't have this problem...maybe they could talk about their 'feelings of inadequacy' in private...and not try to prove themselves right in the wake of financial ruin of a lot of is sort of like Hitler at the end igonring everyone else sufferings and hurting the innocent and helpless to prove him self right.

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