Liberty County Board of Education member Marcus Scott IV has been suspended from attending conferences or workshops for the next 12 months, by board Chairwoman Lily Baker.
Baker imposed the suspension on travel, except for events required by the Georgia School Board Association, at the BoE meeting Tuesday.
Scott was a no show at a National School Board Association conference in March in Denver, Colorado, that he registered to attend. He said a family emergency arose, but he did not communicate with anyone that he
was unable to go, officials said.
Baker said the trip cost taxpayers more than $1,600 in registration, air fare and hotel.
The topic was on the agenda, she said, because the school system attorney said the school board needs to figure out whether to do something about it, such as reimbursement, create a policy or do nothing.
“I spoke with him (Scott) about the trip and he admitted to me that he didn’t go,” Baker said. “He had an emergency and did not go, but he also stated to me that he didn’t need to report, or call me or anyone else about the trip because there was nothing in our procedures, code of ethics or conflict of interest, for him to call anyone to let us know that he had an emergency and he could not go.”
Board member Marcia Anderson said there have been situations where board members have registered for conferences and weren’t able to go.
“We, as far as I know, have always tried to get someone to replace us or at the very minimum call and cancel the conference fee, and at minimum the hotel room and then arrange for the air fare to be used at a later date,” Anderson said. “I don’t really care if there’s anything in the policies and procedures or not. To me it’s common sense and you don’t waste taxpayers money.”
Scott said a uniform policy for the board is common sense, but board members don’t always dress appropriately at meetings.
Board member Carolyn Smith Carter thought taxpayers had to be reimbursed.
“I’m glad Ms. Carter said that because did we reimburse the people when you (Carter) missed two months and didn’t let anybody know?” Scott said. “Two months of meetings, I’m sure you still got your check.”
Board member Carol Guyett said they may need to have a procedure in place that outlines how situations like this will be handled in the future.
Board member Verdell Jones agreed.
“We can only act on a policy or procedure and we need to decide for the future. I don’t think we’ve had a lot of problems in the past. Going forward we do need to put procedures in place,” Jones said.
She recalled that when she had a recent death in her family and could not attend a conference, so she let people know. Jones called it a common courtesy.
“It’s never a problem until Marcus Scott does something,” Scott said. “It’s happened several times before this situation and it’s never been a problem. Like I explained to you (Baker), we don’t talk in real life so why would I call you? Period.”
Scott said every meeting Baker misses costs the taxpayers money too.
“Mr. Scott, you can find that on record if I missed I was in the hospital or whatever the case may be,” Baker said. “But let me say this to you, I came here today with this item on the agenda because it cost the taxpayers $1,600. They expect us to go for training and receive training and then come back and utilize that training to be an effective board, and you missed the trip.”
Baker said as board leader she has the right to approve or disapprove board members’ travel and suspended Scott from further travel.
Scott disagreed and said she couldn’t do that.
Jones said there was a time she missed a conference because of an emergency and the district didn’t get its money back.
“I can’t act on this,” Jones said. “Is there something that says we can act on this? We can’t disapprove this. It’s already spent. My opinion is moving forward we put procedures in place... It’s an unfortunate situation. I know there are other things people have missed, but sometimes you can’t help it.”
Baker and Scott then had a heated exchange, resulting in Baker banging her gavel.
On his Education Hotline Wednesday, Scott said another board member missed the conference he signed up for as well and several have missed conferences before.
“All of the sudden it’s a problem that I missed the conference even though another person missed the conference too. That turned into a heated debate because they want to see if they can make me pay. You can’t make me pay anything,” he said.
Scott said everything is refundable to the school board and nothing was lost.
The Courier has requested from school attorney Carl Varnedoe the policy information relating to board member travel. The information was not received by press time.