Newton BOE members have conflict at recent meeting

COVINGTON — Ongoing tension between members of the Newton County Board of Education surfaced Tuesday night when board member Eddie Johnson challenged fellow members to admit posting negative comments about the school system in the Newton Citizen.

Board member Jeff Meadors said Johnson made the accusations while a quorum of board members was behind closed doors prior to calling for a closed session, an apparent violation of the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

Meadors said that he and board members Shakila Henderson-Baker and Abigail Coggin and Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey were prepared to begin their closed session meeting at its scheduled time of 6 p.m., but Johnson was running late. Member Almond Turner was absent from the meeting.

When Johnson did arrive at the meeting, he was apparently upset about anonymous comments about the Newton County School System published in a November Newton Citizen Poll, Meadors said.

“Eddie came in late and waved papers around in his hand, refusing to allow us to go into closed session until we listened to his complaints about commentary on the Nov. 24 Newton (Citizen) Poll,” said Meadors.

Meadors documented the time as 6:09 p.m. when Johnson had finished and the actual closed session began, which he said is a violation of board policy that dictates the meetings start promptly at 6 p.m.

Meadors said that Johnson implied that one of the board members had written the comments, and interrogated each member about whether he or she had written them. All members present denied writing them, Meadors said, and Johnson then offered to pay for lie detector tests for the entire board to determine if one of them was being untruthful.

“Assailing a full board with interrogation and threats of lie detector tests does no good for a school system currently struggling with academic indices,” said Meadors.

In addition, state law mandates that only three topics may be discussed in closed sessions — pending litigation, real estate transactions and personnel.

“If he wanted to discuss this in open session, he can do so in the public room where the public can hear the concerns,” said Meadors.

When asked on Friday for comment about Tuesday evening’s meeting, Johnson said, “I have nothing to add.”

Henderson-Baker declined Friday to comment on the incident as well, while Coggin and Fuhrey could not be reached for comment by press time.

Meadors stated that Johnson has accused him of similar comments in the past during closed session meetings, including an incident as recent as August. Meadors said he has written to Johnson detailing what he believes is harassment and cautioned him to stop.

“I trust you will find it unnecessary to continue in this vein to avoid what could be costly litigation for you and shame once again to our system and students,” Meadors wrote to Johnson on Aug. 14.

Meadors said Johnson’s accusations date back to a lawsuit brought against Meadors by LaQuanda Carpenter, the former principal of Alcovy High School, who claimed that Meadors posted anonymous comments about her on the Newton Citizen website. Carpenter’s lawsuit was dropped and she and her husband, Dennis Carpenter, who was an assistant superintendent in the school system, resigned and moved to Arkansas earlier this year.