From today’s Sentinel:

BOE approves attorney contract after heated debate
by Winston Jones/Staff Writer
The Douglas County Board of Education (BOE) Monday approved a $295,275 attorney services contract with Sherrod and Bernard, but only after heated debate and a 3-2 split vote.

The action came at the regular 7 p.m. BOE meeting at the board’s central office conference room on Highway 5.

BOE Chairman Jimmy Bartlett had to cast the deciding vote to break a 2-2 tie for approval. This vote came after a move to table the issue hit a 2-2 snag and failed.

The motion to approve the attorney fee was made by Dr. Sam Haskell and seconded by Jeff Morris. Their votes to approve were countered by votes against from Larry Barnes and Mike Miller.

In casting the deciding vote, Bartlett presented a two-page, prepared speech on why he felt the approval was in the best interest of the county taxpayers and school system. He said his decision came after much research and talks with all board members.

“Based on my findings, it’s possible that we could obtain services for a lower rate, but it is certain that we could pay much, much more,” Bartlett said. “Our responsibility in this matter is to make the best choice and that is what my vote will reflect.”

Bartlett said the fee is only 13 one-hundredths of 1 percent of the school system budget.

“I’m voting for what I believe to be the best interests of Douglas County,” he said.

However, Barnes said he felt the vote should be delayed until further research could be done.

“I’m concerned about this contract that we haven’t had sufficient time to debate,” Barnes said. “We’ve asked for things that haven’t been received. There’s nothing in the contract that specifies the responsibilities of the firm.

Barnes also charged that the fee is out of line with other school systems of similar size, such as Paulding and Carroll.

“I’ve talked to many systems,” he said. “I can’t find anyone in the same ballpark as this figure.”

Barnes said he has no issue with the present attorney’s performance. He said it’s a financial issue and making sure it’s in line with other counties providing the same services. He said these are difficult economic times and everyone should pitch in and weather the storm.

Miller said this is a very big issue for him and one of serving the people in his district.

“Some folks in my district said they want to know when major issues come up and this is a major issue,” he said. “Ken Bernard is a friend of mine and he’s an excellent attorney, but that’s not the issue.”

Miller said the contract was presented to him only a week ago Friday. He said the board needs more time to look it over and know what it’s getting.

“I don’t care what the amount is as long as we know what we’re getting,” he said. “I had questions I wanted answered. That’s why I voted to table.”

Miller also said that he’d like to see the board’s policy changed for citizen comment. He noted that the BOE agenda is usually posted on Friday, but that registration for citizen comment has to be made by Thursday. He suggested moving the comment date to noon on the meeting date.