State delay causes school board ethics policy loophole

ALBANY, Ga. -- It was a policy that David Maschke wanted to have in place as soon as possible when he became the Dougherty County Board of Education chairman in January 2009.

"We don't have an ethics policy and that was something I was trying to work on once I got in," Maschke said. "At our very first (board) retreat (in early 2009), Bill Sampson facilitated the meeting and first broached subject."

Maschke said Wednesday that he remembered board member Michael Windom volunteering to head up developing an ethics policy for the board since he served as the director for District 2 of the Georgia School Boards Association. However, Windom's work was halted once the school board learned that the state was going to implement a statewide ethics policy that would apply to all school systems. The state plan never developed.

The ethics question has arisen following the recent selection of Superintendent Joshua Murfree, an Albany State University executive, as the "best-qualified candidate available" on April 12.

The school board voted to verify that Murfree was the "best-qualified applicant available."

The Georgia School Boards Association, which conducted the national superintendent search for Dougherty County, ranked Murfree 34th out of 37 applicants.

Board members Anita Williams-Brown, Milton Griffin, Velvet Riggins and James Bush voted Murfree was the "best-qualified applicant available," while Maschke, Windom and Emily Jean McAfee voted against it.

The Dougherty County School System website lists eight principles the Dougherty County School System is committed to. Two of these are, "Requiring accountability starting at the highest level;" and, "Embracing the development of the whole person, including the character traits of honest, compassion, and integrity."

The Georgia School Boards Association's principles include "Do not compromise the school system or the board by taking part in any action that might be viewed as a conflict of interest" and "Promote trust, honesty, integrity and fairness."

The Herald uncovered that Williams-Brown -- who appointed Murfree as superintendent at the Jan. 27 board meeting -- was business partners with Murfree for a nonprofit that the two had established for her Hawkinsville church in 2003. The Herald also revealed that Murfree wrote a letter of recommendation for Williams-Brown in 2001 when she was applying for a principal position in the Dougherty County School System in which he referred to Williams-Brown as a friend and colleague. Williams-Brown is also a Albany State University graduate.

-- Riggins' sorority, Zeta Phi Beta, was the sister sorority for the male fraternity Phi Beta Sigma. Riggins said Murfree belongs to Phi Beta Sigma.

-- Bush is an Albany State inductee in the college's hall of fame. At least one board meeting, Bush arrived toting an Albany State bag.

-- Griffin and another board member had selected Murfree as their choice for the next DCSS superintendent before the Nov. 24 application deadline, according to a source that spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"The GSBA doesn't have a code of ethics, the GSBA is not a police force, we do not regulate boards," said GSBA Consultant Bill Sampson, who was the board's consultant during its national superintendent search. "It's a voluntary organization, it is not a regulatory organization. All 180 organizations (school systems) belong. We supply resources to school boards, we don't regulate them.

"When a board makes an action, that's a board action, we don't criticize board actions," Sampson continued. "We try to do our best to tell people to avoid situations where they will be regulated. ... It is up to board to decide which person is the best candidate. The only opinion that matters is the board members and if people of Dougherty County don't like it they can do something about it when an election comes."