Clayton:  Power Causes Board Members to Nut Up!

by Dr. John Trotter

How many times have you heard this said about an assistant principal or a principal: "You know, when he/she was a teacher, he/she was so nice and friendly. But, since he/she became an administrator, he/she changed. He/she is no longer pleasant to be around. He/she is just tripping on his/her power"? Yes, some people cannot handle power. It goes to their head. It corrupts the people who acquire it. That’s the case with four of the women on the Clayton County Board of Education. They simply "nutted up" when they got some power. I know all four of the ladies – in fact, two of them used to be MACE members (Nedra Ware, a teacher at Woodland Middle School in Fulton, and Connie Kitchens, a teacher at Paul D. West Middle School in Fulton). LaToya Walker is a branch manager of SouthTrust Bank in Riverdale and Carol Kellum is a permanent substitute teacher at Mt. Olive Elementary School in Fulton. I had a major role in all four of them getting elected to the school board (like I’ve had a major role in 75-80 other campaigns – mostly in Clayton County since I’ve lived there for over 21 years). I’ve seen others whom I’ve helped also nut up with power once they got elected. I’ve actively helped school board members, commissioners, state legislators, judges, and congressmen get elected through the years. Teachers are no different – when it comes to human frailties and character flaws – than other people who run for elected office. (Remember: Virtually every administrator who now torments you and apparently enjoys doing it was also a teacher earlier in his/her career.) But, one good thing about Clayton is this: Despite the inexplicable and maniacal actions of Ware, Kitchens, Kellum, and Walker, the teachers in Clayton keep going to their classrooms each day, and, those students who have the motivation to learn keep learning. However, because some school board members have astoundingly defied the guidelines and standards of SACS (despite having been put on probation for constantly meddling in the day-to-day operations of the schools), there’s a strong probability that SACS will take away accreditation, and the state will then have to intervene. The average person doesn’t really understand what’s going on. Let me explain: Even after the Clayton School Board recently went on a two-day retreat wherein the staff of the Georgia School Board Association (GSBA) explained in detail (by explaining the statutes and standards to the school board members) that individual members of the school board could not meddle nor give directives to school employees, Ware and Kitchens, the very next week, wrote a "memorandum" to a high-ranking administrator, telling her what to do. This is beyond belief. Either Ware and Kitchens (and their two cohorts, Kellum and Walker) "just don’t get it" or they just don’t care. They are apparently still following the wrong-headed advice of Harry Ross, a political buffoon from DeKalb County. Earlier this year, it’s been reported that Ware visited Lake Ridge Elementary School in Riverdale where her friend, Brenda Cloud, is the principal. The story has it that at a faculty meeting at Lake Ridge, Ware spoke to the teachers and chided them for not getting on board, so to speak, with the leadership of Cloud. As a school board member, you simply can’t do that. In January of this year, I wrote a lengthy letter to the Clayton school board members who constituted the new majority, telling them in great detail that as school board members they were policy-makers, not administrators. I warned them that if they continued meddling in the day-to-day affairs of the school system, then they would get into trouble. The letter apparently fell on deaf ears. All the while, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) was having a heyday constantly beating me up in unsigned editorials and news articles, despite the fact that I kept telling them that I was not orchestrating the chaos that was swirling around the school board. The AJC didn’t believe me – or, preferred not believing me because the story was too juicy and racy the way they were getting by presenting it: White puppet master lurking in the background as he was pulling the strings of five African American women (the new majority) on the school board. Granted, I recruited and ran the campaigns of all of these women. (Actually, I recruited and raised the money for Carol Kellum to move into a district with a vacant seat so that she could be legally appointed to the school board. I want to be technically correct in this statement lest someone tries to dispute what I’m saying.) However, the media outlets (especially the AJC) conveniently ignored the fact that I also recruited and ran the campaign for Dr. Susan Ryan, a white woman who defeated an incumbent by four votes in 2002. Also, I encouraged Dr. Bob Livingston, a white man who was elected as Clayton County’s superintendent in 1990, to come out of retirement and run for the school board in 2000. I helped Dr. Livingston in his school board race in 2000 – and he used the same logo in his campaign materials that I had developed for his very successful campaign for superintendent in 1990. The media didn’t want to hear any of this. The AJC wanted to talk about a "black nationalist," a "puppet master," a "civil rights agitator," an "aggressive union organizer," and "a skilled political operator who helped engineer a black coup d’ etat of the county’s once lily-white school board," among many other pejoratives. I was actually attending Sonny Perdue’s Inaugural Ball the night that the Clayton County Board of Education fired Dan Colwell. I had suggested to Ms. Ware, who, by then, was the new chairperson, that the wise thing to do was to go into executive session – since this was on the agenda. Ms. Ware said, "No, we’re just going to fire him." I realized then that the power had already gone to her head. Whereas in the past she might have listened to my advice, now, however, she had the power and she was disinclined to listen any longer. (She started listening to Harry Ross, and he’s apparently feasting upon the political disaster which he has been instrumental in spawning in Clayton County. Keep in mind that he is a self-described "activist." A more apt description would be an unfocused "hell-raiser.") When the school board, upon advice of newly acquired (at tremendous expense to the taxpayers) outside lawyers decided to "re-fire" Colwell on January 17, 2003 (remember: the first firing was not on the agenda on January 13, 2003), I was at the MACE office that evening, and since I really didn’t know what was going on, I asked one of our associates, Mr. Norreese Haynes, if he wanted to ride with me to the Clayton County school board meeting. Earlier in the day, I finally relented and granted an interview to a fellow named Lyle Harris who was on the AJC editorial board. He came to the MACE office and interviewed me – along with other MACE associates like Dennis Yarbrough, Bill Woods, Charles Melton, and Norreese Haynes. We thought the interview was pleasant – but we were "sucker-punched." Earlier, I had turned down multiple requests from different people on the AJC editorial board, requesting that I go downtown to meet with the entire editorial board. I told them that I preferred to stay out of the spotlight – especially since I was not orchestrating the events like the AJC had been reporting that I was doing – and I told them that I didn’t think that they would be fair. They were not fair and they still are not fair – although they have had no choice but to back off of me since it is so obvious to the most untrained observer that not only do I have nothing to do with Ware, Kitchens, Kellum, and Walker, but I actually oppose their ludicrous and mind-numbing actions.

 

Let’s get back to the January 17, 2003 meeting which Mr. Haynes and I attended. I had no idea that there would be such a huge crowd at the meeting – but the embattled Colwell (the superintendent who was being fired) apparently used the influences of his office (as well as his minions to use the school system’s e-mail) to drum up a crowd and he publicly blamed me for his downfall (on numerous occasions on television news reports and in the print media). Therefore, when I walked into the lobby – where the overflow crowd of about 500 people were gathered in the lobby, not to mention the 500 people who were packed inside the meeting room – people (a good portion of which were from the Maintenance Department) started shouting at me, some walking by and brushing up against me, and others literally standing "in my face." Quietly literally, it was a rabid, angry group of white people who apparently felt that their jobs would be threatened with this "black takeover" of the school board. I was, to them, the "evil white genius" who pulled off the feat. I had felt that this might be the reaction in Clayton County. When I moved to Clayton County in 1982, it was a regular occurrence to see members of the KKK with their hoods on passing out literature on the main thoroughfares. This occurred up until about the mid-1980s. Two-thirds of the cars in the parking lot that evening of the 17th of January were from places like Henry and Fayette counties. Most of the white employees in the Clayton school system simply don’t live in Clayton County. They apparently felt that their jobs were threatened. I marched in the country’s last great civil rights march which occurred in January of 1987 in Forsyth County, Georgia. There were hundreds – perhaps thousands – of national guardsmen there to keep the order and peace. But, the police officers at the Clayton school board meeting that night were, to say the least, not very aggressive in crowd control. One notable exception was Detective Reones who came up to stand beside me, and I told him that I would not quit heckling back at the hecklers until they quit heckling me. (These poor amateurs didn’t realize that I had close to a hundred good, juicy MACE pickets under my belt; often some parents and the groveling, kiss-up teachers try to heckle the MACE picketers – to no avail.) Detective Reones told the crowd that I had every right that they had. Before Detective Reones showed up, I announced to the hostile crowd (and, believe me, the Forsyth County crowd which heckled Rev. Hosea Williams and his throng of marchers had nothing on the Clayton County crowd this evening) that I wasn’t afraid of any of them in the room. This was the meeting that was played up so much on all the Atlanta television stations. Of course, since I was the person whom Colwell and his sycophants were blaming, the television reporters kept asking me for interviews. I granted the interviews and told it like I saw it. I thought that the initial reaction to the firing of Colwell was racist. I still do believe that. (I even had preachers denouncing me and dozens of letters to the local newspaper saying nasty things about me, even comparing me to Osama ben Ladin.) Keep in mind that three of the African Americans on the school board helped to actively force out Joe Hariston, a black superintendent, in January of 2000. These same women voted to make Dan Colwell the "interim superintendent. The then chairman, Mark Armstrong, announced that night that the school board would immediately begin a "nationwide search" for Hairston’s replacement. A search was never conducted. In a secret cabal in August of that year, the majority on the school board forced through a superintendent’s contract for Colwell. This, like the situation wherein Colwell was first fired on January 13, 2003, was not on the agenda. (Mrs. Linda Crummy, an African American lady, was Vice Chairperson at the time, and she was kept in the dark concerning this matter. Keeping her in the dark and not having the action item on the agenda were violations of school board policy and practice.. However, there was no such media fanfare to Hairston’s forced resignation nor to the lack of a national search for his replacement nor to the forced-through contract for Colwell.) So, yes, I do think that the initial reaction to Colwell’s termination was largely racist. However, the situation is now beyond racism. Nedra Ware, Connie Kitchens, and their two cohorts, in the face of all logic, are continuing to display a bizarre, ego-centric, stubborn pride – at the expense of Clayton’s students and teachers. Linda Crummy, a MACE member and a former member of the Ware majority, officially broke away from that coalition in April. (In March, I had already told Ms. Ware that because of the apparent spell of Harry Ross on the four women, resulting in bizarre behavior like silly and ridiculous press conferences as well as either a refusal or inability to hire a person to be in charge of public relations, that I would no longer waste my time trying to give them sound advice.) Mrs. Crummy had taken all that she could take. She reports that Ms. Ware unilaterally – without any consultation with other board members, much less at an official school board meeting – attempted to personally settle lawsuits. She, by this time, had "nutted up" with her sense of power. Mrs. Crummy, however, reported that Connie Kitchens was actually calling most of the shots.

 

So, where does Clayton County go from here? Harry Ross is apparently advising the Ware-Kitchens-Kellum-Walker team to play the race card from the bottom of the deck. It is sort of like a reversed "Mississippi burning." The flames of race are constantly fanned. The rabid crowd of January 17th of this year is partly responsible for this reversed reaction. But, a great deal of the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of Nedra Ware, Connie Kitchens, LaToya Walker, and Carol Kellum. There are only two white school board members. There are six black school board members. Ericka Davis and Linda Crummy are two very strong black women. Anyone who knows them knows that you can’t question their "black credentials." Also, anyone who attends a school board meeting will see that there are many more African Americans who criticize the Ware clique than who support this clique. Yes, it’s beyond racism. It’s affecting way too many lives. I predict that if Ware, Kitchens, Kellum, and Walker continue to listen to the likes of Harry Ross (people who are adept at stirring up racial strife), then the Clayton County School System will lose accreditation and the state will intervene – whatever this entails. This is a new phenomenon in Georgia. Clayton County will then forever be compared to systems like the Newark, Jersey School System where the state took over.

August 15, 2003

NOTE: Since the composition of the above article, it appears that LaToya Walker has shifted a little, much to the chagrin of Ware, Kitchens, and Kellum. At a recent school board meeting, Ms. Walker actually made the motion for the school board to conduct a national search for a superintendent. Ware, Kitchens, and Kellum kept contending that the half-baked search (apparently orchestrated by Harry Ross) which Ware, Kitchens, Kellum, and Walker participated in constituted a national search. However, the other school board members disagreed, as did the Georgia School Board Association and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. This apparent break in the ranks has Ware, Kitchens, and Kellum extremely frustrated. It appears that they are politically destroyed.

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