By David Dorer
Macon has an aching problem with a former school board superintendent. On January 28, 2015, Romain Dallemand demanded $10 million from Bibb’s school board for alleged violations of his severance agreement, as well as for alleged libel and slander. Macon-Bibb County responded with a counterclaim for $7.5 million – a drop in the $51 million bucket of unsubstantiated expenditures identified in an audit of the school board.
A bill proposed last year in Georgia’s House of Representatives aimed at amending Georgia’s constitution to provide for the possibility of direct election of school board superintendents in Georgia. It passed Georgia’s House last year. However, two of three Macon House of Representatives members, James Beverly and Nikki Randall, voted against it. Only Allen Peake voted for it. A similar bill has now been proposed by the Senate this legislative session, but hasn’t been approved. I think it should be.
Two-thirds of Macon’s representatives to Georgia’s House would rather that Dallemand-type school board appointees be the status quo for school board superintendents, which is surprising given our recent history with Dallemand. As it currently stands, boards court these high-level administrators, sign high-dollar contracts with them, and let some, as Dallemand has so-far-only-allegedly done, swindle us of our tax dollars with no serious repercussions. Meanwhile, boards too often agree to golden-parachute-like severance packages, and open themselves up to subsequent liability when they investigate perceived wrongdoing after rogues like Dallemand are gone.
I’m not suggesting that the direct election of local government weeds out all financial waste, overspending and misappropriation. Robert Reichert, for example, is an elected official who greatly increased the salaries of some of his core administrative officials, some having their salaries almost double, while simultaneously asserting that Macon-Bibb County needs to cut costs.
I am suggesting that democracy brings sunlight to the sausage-making process of local governance. The difference (besides the relative magnitude of wasted cost to the taxpayer) between Dallemand and the Mayor’s office is that Mayor Reichert has to answer to the voters, the people he serves. If Reichert doesn’t find a way to reconcile his spending policies, he’ll have a tougher time keeping his job next election season, should he decide to run again.
Dallemand didn’t have to be elected or re-elected; his contract was renewed until the board finally attempted to oust him. An elected position doesn’t result in a negotiation process for compensation. The pay will be set, and the terms will be clear. There would be no further litigation like what is occurring with Dallemand if we were electing our school district superintendents.
As this legislative session comes to a close, I hope it becomes clear to Macon-Bibb’s Georgia State Senate delegation of Senators David Lucas and John Kennedy that the Senate needs to pass SB 81. Furthermore, now that we know which way Representatives Beverly and Randall will vote on the measure, we should remind them what the existing system continues to cost our community for past mistakes, and see if they remain comfortable making us continue to bear that cost.