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Lawsuit launched against Gwinnett, others over charter amendment

LAWRENCEVILLE — A lawsuit filed this week in Gwinnett Superior Court against Gwinnett County Public Schools, its superintendent and the Georgia School Boards Association asks district leaders to refrain from alleged on-the-clock campaigning against a constitutional amendment slated for the Nov. 6 ballot.

The suit — which lists five Gwinnett County residents as plaintiffs — was filed on the same day as a separate lawsuit filed in Fulton County Superior Court against all 180 districts in the state. It claims education leaders are using taxpayer funds and resources to rally against the same referendum.

Led by attorney Glenn Delk, the group of Georgia residents is suing Gwinnett and Fulton county school systems as representatives of all districts in the state for what they claim is an illegal political campaign. They seek declaratory judgment, a preliminary injunction, and a monetary judgment against the school systems. A hearing has been scheduled today before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob.

The lawsuit filed in Gwinnett Superior Court is scheduled for Oct. 24, before Judge Dawson Jackson. Plaintiffs listed for the local case are Sabrina Smith, Shelly Nix, Jim Regan, James R. Lappana and Richard P. Schneider.

Both lawsuits pertain to a constitutional amendment that would underscore the state’s authority to charter independent public schools if voters say ‘yes’ to the ballot question.

According to a news release from a public relations firm that represents plaintiffs in the Fulton County Superior Court case, there is “clear evidence of a state-wide political campaign to defeat the amendment using taxpayers’ resources orchestrated by the Georgia School Boards Association.”

The lawsuit claims that in June 2012, the GSBA held a training meeting attended by school board members throughout Georgia, “during which a campaign organizer instructed attendees on how to wage a campaign to defeat the amendment.”

Sis Henry, executive director of the GSBA, said that the June session in question “was not a secret meeting. The press was invited and the agenda had been posted on our website.”

“The only thing that was secretive about that meeting was that somebody secretly taped the session,” Henry said.

The lawsuit states that the plaintiffs “obtained an audio recording” of the meeting in which a campaign organizer addressed attendees.

Henry said the meeting was “an hourlong session in a six-hour communication workshop ... there were many other sessions offered at the same time ... with more than 500 people at the meeting.”

She said the GSBA’s job is to “work for school boards. We are their association. They are our members. I don’t think I have ever seen a topic since I have been here that has galvanized school boards, superintendents and the entire group, like this (topic) has. It would only be natural that if I work for them, and this has been a long-standing position of theirs, that I would talk about the amendment. We work for them.”

The Fulton County Superior Court lawsuit states that the plaintiffs — R. Allen Hughes, Rich Thompson, Rae Anne Harkness, Kelley O’Bryan Gary and Kara Martin, “on behalf of themselves and all taxpayers of Georgia” — believed that the GSBA used taxpayer funds to pay for the June meeting. In addition, the lawsuit states, “school board members received their normal compensation and reimbursement for this meeting.”

Defending local school board members and himself, GCPS Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks released a statement Tuesday evening.

“In providing information to the public regarding Amendment 1, I have done nothing wrong or improper. These lawsuits are simply another attempt to bully, intimidate, and silence the citizens and public servants who are trying to clarify the amendment in order to counter the misleading language of the preamble and the ballot question itself,” Wilbanks said.

“This is not a partisan issue. Educating voters on Amendment 1 is so important that people from all political parties are collaborating to ensure voters have full and accurate information about it.”

Added Wilbanks: “That said I fully understand and abide by what legally I can and cannot do regarding the use of public funds in this effort. I also know that as an American citizen I have freedom of speech rights that are protected by the United States Constitution. I fully intend to continue exercising those rights, regardless of the tactics employed to try to keep me quiet.”

The suit filed in Gwinnett County Superior Court lists Wilbanks specifically as one of the defendants.

The lawsuit also alleges that Gwinnett “distributed anti-amendment materials and adopted resolutions ... and have given anti-amendment speeches.”

In August, members of the Gwinnett County Board of Education adopted a resolution during a meeting stating the district’s stance against the constitutional amendment.

On Sept. 25, Delk sent a letter to Gwinnett and Fulton County school districts “requesting that defendants refrain from their activities in opposition to passage of the amendment.”

On Oct. 3, Delk said a letter from Attorney General Sam Olens to State Superintendent John Barge — who had publicly voiced opposition to the amendment — laid out a case against elected education officials advocating or opposing constitutional amendments.

The lawsuit states that the plaintiffs’ complaint “does not address the pros and cons of Amendment 1. This case is not about whether or not the voters of Georgia should vote yes or no on the Amendment on November 6, 2012.”

The suit addresses “whether or not the named defendants and the local school districts they represent have orchestrated an illegal political campaign using taxpayers’ funds.”

Echoing Wilbanks’ remarks, Henry said the lawsuit is “one more example of bullying and intimidation that is being practiced from the other side.”

“We are deeply concerned about it,” Henry said. “Civil dialogue is part of a democracy ... and people have First Amendment rights.”

According to its website, the mission of the Georgia School Boards Association is “to ensure excellence in the governance of local school systems by providing leadership, advocacy and services, and by representing the collective resolve of Georgia’s 180 elected boards of education.”

Comments

R 1 year, 6 months ago

So where's the companion lawsuit against the Governor??

or the Chambers of Commerce or CIDs using tax dollars to advocate for TSPLOST

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Elbonian 1 year, 6 months ago

Personally I'm against the amendment because I believe in local control. Gwinnett schools should be controlled by Gwinnett citizens through our elected school board. I greatly resent the folks in Atlanta trying to take away local control!

With that said, I do not mind if Gwinnett schools uses some of my tax dollars to try and maintain local control of our schools. They certainly have MY permission!

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pcjohn 1 year, 6 months ago

What local control? All of GCPS is controlled by Wilbanks and his cabal of flunkies. Is it part of your concept of "local control" that Wilbanks gives away $150,000 every year to his friends at the Convention Bureau? That's money collected from people like me that is meant for the education of the kids and not for Wilbanks to pee away for nothing. There's your "local control". Hope you like the results.

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Jan 1 year, 6 months ago

Are you really so oblivious to facts? The school board is elected and, in my opinion, the members of the board have demonstrated a true interest in improving education in Gwinnett County. Mr Wilbanks meets regularly with this board, keeping them informed and getting input, and sometimes mandates. This board can replace him should they not approve of the direction he is taking the county. The board has previous replaced the Superintendents that they considered not appropriate for the position. Since school board members are constantly getting feedback and actively trying to include parents and other voters in decisions, this gives a major voice to the people in Gwinnett. Note that any influence over a state appointed board would be minimal with 159 counties diluting any influence local voters would have. You are also off base with the "..gives away $150,000...". This is not a donation, does not go to the Convention Bureau. It specifically goes to salaries to help Partnership Gwinnett to bring business into the county, which increases the tax base. An estimate of $6 million increase in tax revenue over the last 5 years for an investment of 5 X $150,000 gives a return on this investment of 800%. An outstanding return on investment.

PS $150,000 is less than .009% of the budget, hardly sufficient to warrant your ridiculous categorization.

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R 1 year, 6 months ago

You're right the funds don't go to the convention bureau it goes to the chamber as well as funds supplied by the convention bureau.

Exactly what percentage of the annual budget that is spent inappropriately would be enough to warrant a reaction these days? Don't percentages add up? Especially when you claim you have LESS than required to fully operate?

Both the school system and the Chamber have been repeatedly asked to provide the support detail for these claimed results, if you have the detail please release it. But until that occurs, let's not make light of those who question the calculations that were used to create the return on investment estimate.

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pcjohn 1 year, 6 months ago

To what "facts" do you allude, Jan? You start off declaring that "in my opinion".......etc. If that is how you define a fact then more power to you if you can persuade others. You are a good spokesperson for the GCPS administration but your opinion is based on your personal feelings not facts, Just whom do you work for within that overpaid, corrupt system? And you really need a course in remedial math, or perhaps logic, as explained by others below.

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Say_that_again 1 year, 6 months ago

What hypocrites! Don't waste tax payer money to help educate the people about the amendment, do use tax payer money to defend against a lawsuit unlikely to get anything except publicity.

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LarryMajor 1 year, 6 months ago

Delk is suing the “Education Empire,” a phrase he uses frequently in his complaint. This Education Empire, according to Delk, is comprised of all school systems in Georgia, the teachers unions (?), several associations “and others.”

The complaint is that schools systems are using taxpayers’ money to do things like distribute political material. Delk’s solution to this problem is to have all school systems spend more taxpayers’ money to distribute more political material, only this time, the material will be written by his clients. I swear I’m not making this up. http://www.cpoga.org/PDF/delk_lawsuit.pdf

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Say_that_again 1 year, 6 months ago

Thanks for the link. Reading this man's arguments demonstrates his ability to skew facts in his favor. He claims the prohibition is based solely on "tax payer money" used for or against an amendment and yet totally ignores the fact that charter schools, the people for whom he is arguing, are also funded by taxpayers and, therefore, by his argument, would not be allowed to fund any advocacy for the amendment. I read the cited court decisions, and noticed a major loophole to Delk's theory for this does directly affect education which puts the responsibility of getting the facts to the public an obligation of the public education boards, especially since the pro charter amendment forces have resorted to so many non-factual statements trying to sway voters on emotion rather than facts.

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JohnQSucker 1 year, 6 months ago

Insane...Government versus Government, and both sides blowing taxpayer money to defeat the other. I can afford for the Government to waste some of my cash on self promotion, but the ones really being hurt are the folks who cannot...the Middle Class. Vote Libertarian.

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R 1 year, 6 months ago

The cities sued the county remember? Gwinnett had to sue to address the overstepping the of the state constitution.

For all those who hold out that charter schools accept ALL students in the region what about the shining star Ivy Prep? It ONLY accepts FEMALE students correct? So what state public schools choose students by sex? Please feel free to correct me here if my facts are amiss.

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NorcrossDot 1 year, 6 months ago

Libertarian? equals a vote for Obama.

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SabrinaWorks247 1 year, 6 months ago

Jan wrote: "It specifically goes to salaries to help Partnership Gwinnett to bring business into the county, which increases the tax base. An estimate of $6 million increase in tax revenue over the last 5 years for an investment of 5 X $150,000 gives a return on this investment of 800%. An outstanding return on investment."

That is a very impressive ROI. How did you determine that GCPS received $6 million in return for paying the salaries of 2 PG/chamber employees?

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BuzzG 1 year, 6 months ago

If you don't think there is an education empire in Gwinnett, you have your blinders on. Education is huge business in Gwinnett. Many jobs, money and power are involved. And it has been clear to all who are paying attention that the welfare of our kids frequently take a back seat to the welfare of the powerful. I hope Mr. Delk is successful in stopping the abuse of the taxpayer by that education empire. I would love to sit on that jury.

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NorcrossDot 1 year, 6 months ago

So would I BuzzG. Well stated.

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LarryMajor 1 year, 6 months ago

No, those of us snickering at the word “empire” understand the English language. An empire is where controlling power is in the hands of a very small group. A local BOE has authority, but its members have no power as individuals because they are elected by the people and can be replaced at any time, so the power lies with the people. The only way to replace leadership in a political empire is armed rebellion. You support creating a commission that is appointed by a board whose members are themselves, appointed. Worse, you support permanently giving this commission power superior to that of elected officials. The entire notion flies in the face of democracy.

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Elbonian 1 year, 6 months ago

Amen to that! BuzzG: How is a state-level "educational empire" supposed to be more beneficial to Gwinnett citizens than the local-level "educational empire" we have now? Sorry, but it makes a ton more sense to me to stick with local control. If you don't like what is going on, run for school board! if we turn control over to the state, good luck getting ANY changes made!

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Rico 1 year, 6 months ago

It's ironic that the State is suing some counties over this when they do it all of the time (spend taxpayer's dollars to fund economic development). The University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and other state funded universities have full time economic development departments. All this is about is Nathan Deal is mad because school superintendents are calling it for what it is: A takeover of local government by the State. So now he is sicking his dogs on counties that won't step in line.

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jenelaw 1 year, 6 months ago

Gwinnett residents who want to complain about the school system here sickon me. Gwinnett is a nationally recognized school district that has made AMAZING strides as the county has shifted from a rural county to an urban school district. It is one of the most stable school districts in the nation and of course it is big business because it is one of the largest employers in the state of Georgia as it is a HUGE district. If anyone is listening...the big "education empire" is not advocating against parent choice. The empire is advocating against further cuts to the local school systems that have just about crippled the current system. The austerity cuts that educators have endured mean that they are making less and less money each year...but teaching more students and handling more responsibilities. Teacher salaries were not exhorbitant to start with so after 5 years of no raises, furlough days and higher payments for health insurance and benefits; educators in Georgia are actually making substantially less than they were. Class sizes are larger than ever and clerical support and infrastructure are all but gone. No one is against charter schools and no one is against parent choice. The "empire" is against being anymore crippled than it already has been. Our own State School Superintendent has gone against his party not because he doesn't believe in charter schools, but because he doesn't believe in state charter schools at the expense of hurting an already wounded public school system.

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NorcrossDot 1 year, 6 months ago

Drinking the kool-aid Jenelaw? Did you graduate from a Gwinnett School? I assume you meant "sicken".

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CD 1 year, 6 months ago

The bottom line is that the taxpayers are not getting their money's worth from GCPS. The answer, in the short term, is to replace the current board members as they come up for re-election.

The charter school amendment is not the answer. The answer is to fix the problem. Beyond all of this, GCPS absolutely should not use taxpayer funds to support the Chamber.

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jenelaw 1 year, 6 months ago

GCPS is one of the top rated school systems in the nation. What more do you want from them? It is a PUBLIC school system. They attempt to educate every child that walks through the door...from the brightest to the most struggling. The state has continued to cut school resources for over 8 years now. Class sizes are huge and teachers are literally making less than they did five years ago. All the teachers I know are still working just as hard as they can, but the schools are understaffed DUE to the housing crisis in Gwinnett as well as the economic crisis in the state of Georgia. Gwinnett still managed to win a Nationally Coveted Award in the midst of all of this. I am not sure what some of you want from PUBLIC education, but if you need more than Gwinnett is giving...you don't need a charter school, you need an elite private school.

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NorcrossDot 1 year, 6 months ago

A national award in the USA does not mean very much any more. Yep Gwinnett students can take tests but can not spell, do basic math and have survivor skill in the real world.

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pcjohn 1 year, 6 months ago

What is your source for the statement that "GCPS is one of the top rated school systems in the nation" ??

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R 1 year, 6 months ago

Winning the BROAD Award - must have missed all the banners...

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pcjohn 1 year, 6 months ago

Hey jenelaw.....still waiting for that source for your ridiculous statement that "GCPS is one of the top rated school systems in the nation". Or was it just a rash statement that you thought would help make your point ? C'mon, teach, we're all waiting to hear from you.

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R 1 year, 6 months ago

Winning the BROAD Award - must have missed all the banners...

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Rico 1 year, 6 months ago

These comments about GCPS are absurd. It is one of the best school systems in the state, especially in the Metro Atlanta area. It is why Gwinnett County grew so fast - people wanted to be here so their kids had a good school system to go to. No, I don't work for the school system - just a resident that is thankful my children got an excellent education in GCPS.

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R 1 year, 6 months ago

Gwinnett grew by massive ZONING actions back in the day, the school system FOLLOWED.

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SabrinaWorks247 1 year, 6 months ago

I'm still waiting for someone to explain how GCPS got $6 million in return for paying the salaries of chamber employees.

Jan? Anyone?

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R 1 year, 6 months ago

We'll be waiting a LOOOOONG time for that response...

"PS $150,000 is less than .009% of the budget, hardly sufficient to warrant your ridiculous categorization."

Exactly what percentage of the annual budget that is spent inappropriately would be enough to warrant a reaction these days? Don't percentages add up? Especially when you claim that you have LESS than required to fully operate?

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Jan 1 year, 6 months ago

Sorry, but I have other things to do besides monitor responses. Here is a link to a letter sent from GCPS in response to a request for more information:

http://www.gwinnettpetition.com/GCPS_Page.html

The entire letter is highlighted in yellow. Here is a copy of the paragraph with the requested information:

"With the economic downturn that struck in 2007-08 and continues today, the significant value of Partnership Gwinnett to our county’s economic vitality has become even more apparent. In its first five years, Partnership Gwinnett generated over $800 million in economic development, boosting the school district’s revenue from the local tax base by more than $6 million. The proactive and productive economic development posture for Gwinnett County continues to reap benefits for the school district, which has been able to balance its budget without raising the operational millage rate during these difficult economic times."

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R 1 year, 6 months ago

Sorry is right... you were provided an answer BUT where is the math detail that was used to get there? In math classes you get pounced on for not showing the DETAIL, even if the answer is TRUE!

Perhaps the process is under raps because it's patent pending. I know a lot of investors that would LOVE to get that kind of return in a down economy...

Quite frankly, it almost sounds Bernie Madoff-ish...

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Jan 1 year, 6 months ago

Unfortunately, I do frequently assume that those reading responses have the ability to do basic math to calculate increase tax revenue to GCPS based on an extra $800 million tax base and have the skills to do basic research to find the millage rate. This is not a math class so no one should get "pounced on" for not showing all the details. The pouncing should be limited to those that constantly want to respond to facts with absurd insults or misinformation that demonstrate their lack of basic research skills or so brainwashed they only accept as fact their own preconceived ideas. In this case, the letter is quite clear that $800 million in economic development that was aided by the two salaried positions. Your ridiculous attempt to dispute this with a Madoff insult only demonstrates your lack of sufficient interest to actually do some research. If you really believe the data supplied by GCPS is not accurate, then find some facts that would support your position. As we head for the elections, it is unfortunate that too many people take your approach and just want to insult those with information contrary to what you wish to believe. We would get more qualified representation if everyone that claimed to be a patriot would accept their patriotic duty , educate themselves on the issues and vote in every election, especially primaries to get the best candidates running.

PS. If you are still unable to do the calculation (tax base increase) * (mill rate) = increase in revenue. Millage rate for schools which can be found on your property tax statement is 0.020550

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pcjohn 1 year, 6 months ago

Jan, you are so helpful and enlightening that I just had to use YOUR equation and YOUR figures to calculate the increase in tax base that produced the approx. 6MIL in tax revenue that justified your staunch belief that GCPS's questionable gift to Partnership Gwinnett was so beneficial. Guess what? I used the equation YOU gave us (with your snide comment pertaining to our "ability" to use it) and I came up with a "tax base increase" of 292 MIL, and not the 800 MIL you bragged about. I guess that you yourself were "unable" to use the equation otherwise you might have noted the discrepancy in the figures that GCPS gave out, huh? Poor Jan - she's so in love with the GCPS that she'd buy the Brooklyn Bridge if they wanted to sell it to her. By the way, Jan, does that calculation based on your numbers constitute a "fact" that I can use?

And you never did answer whether you are connected with the GCPS. Are you ashamed or embarrassed to do so?

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Jan 1 year, 6 months ago

Obviously you are having some trouble understanding. The $800 million was an amount specified in the letter from GCPS as the tax base increase due to Partnership Gwinnett. I did not give you a formula for that calculation. If you doubt that number, you might contact Partnership Gwinnett and get them to give you a list of the companies that came into the county due to their efforts and then research taxable value of the increased value they created. As for my own involvement, I am retired with no close relatives involved with GCPS. I am still concerned about the quality of the educational system and see it as very important for the future of our country. Watering it down with under performing for profit charter schools will not improve education, but only reduce standards. We have had charters for over 20 years and they have, on the average, consistently failed to come up to the standards of local public schools.

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R 1 year, 6 months ago

When we are collectively talking about money - you are talking about math, plain and simple. There's nothing like an EXCEL formula error to get the juices flowing in the morning.

Jan I guess your research skills are just as lacking as you claim ours are.

We can't get the detail used from the Chamber itself (or the county BoC for that matter) that can begin to support this estimated ROI. It's no personal attack if you DON'T have the backup either, just tell us so and we are on our way.

Claiming parties are ignorant and lazy is really pretty foolish when they are in fact asking for explanations, don't you think?

(You can't see the raised hands over the internet)

SO what was used to determine the actual increased 800 million tax base? For example, were the tax offsets given to several firms recently included in the calculations? Since these are "easy" to find for you, post the links please.

I guess school's in as it were.

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slo2ga 1 year, 6 months ago

From what I see, Partnership Gwinnett is great at bringing in business from Asia that have no desire to become community partners. I will leave it at that and refrain from the obvious statements that accompany this fact.

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JHogan 1 year, 6 months ago

The upshot of this amendment will be that the governor will have near-dictatorial control over the new system of charter schools in the state by virtue of his being able to appoint--without approval--the membership of a new state agency which will authorize the creation of charter schools.

It will remove from the local communities the power to administer their own school sytems. It is my observation that most communities would prefer to run their own schools.

This unneeded amendment, if passed, would create a REAL "education empiire," run by the governor. That is the purpose of the amendment, to hand over control of the sytem of private schools to the governor.

This is a very bad idea.

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R 1 year, 6 months ago

But have NO fear, it will be done responsibly and ethically. After-all, such concerns are the realm of dolts, fools, liberals and democrats...

Paraphrased from none other than the honorable GA Speaker of the House 2012. Why my checkbook feels MUCH better already.

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SabrinaWorks247 1 year, 6 months ago

Jan wrote:

"If you really believe the data supplied by GCPS is not accurate, then find some facts that would support your position."

I filed open records requests that show GCPS does not have one shred of documentation to support their claim that they received $6 million in return for paying chamber salaries. Your statement is based on the assumption that the chamber generated $800 million in economic activity. The chamber has not provided any credible documentation to prove they generated $800 million in economic activity.

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NewsReader 1 year, 6 months ago

"A person that preaches about values, but has no values of their own, expects people to act responsibly, yet takes little responsibility for themself, entitled to their rights while violating other’s, applying rules to everyone for which they are exempt, and leading by words and not by example. There en lies the true definition of what it means to be a democrat." There en lies the definition of Jan, Larry_Major, and Say_that_again. What we have here is three individuals cut from the same mold, or active participants in a new reality show called "The Three Stooges", take your pick!

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