ATLANTA, Ga. -- A federal judge in Atlanta promised Friday to rule quickly on whether Georgia's governor has the constitutional authority to remove elected school board members from office.
The DeKalb County School Board is suing the governor, claiming that the Georgia law empowering him to remove members of the DeKalb school board is unconstitutional. The board's attorney argued the key points of case at a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Richard Story Friday afternoon.
There is outrage on both sides of the case.
The school board members are in limbo while their case is being considered, they are powerless to act to try to save the school system's accreditation until the state law is settled because the governor has already suspended six of the nine members pending the judge's ruling. The judge is letting them stay in office for now, but ordered them not to take any official action on any matter until he rules.
The attorney hired by the school board, for $250 an hour, Former DeKalb County District Attorney Bob Wilson, expressed his outrage to the Judge Story during the hearing.
Wilson argued that the people -- the parents and school children of DeKalb County -- would be harmed if the governor is allowed to remove the school board members. Wilson said the board members were elected by the people of DeKalb County, and the Georgia law empowering the governor to remove them is unconstitutional because, he said, a governor just cannot remove elected school board members and replace them with unelected, temporary appointees.
But the attorney for the governor, Stefan Ritter, an assistant state attorney general, argued that the parents and school children will be harmed if the school board members are not replaced immediately by the governor. Ritter said the constitution does, in fact, empower the state to remove them. Good government demands it, he said. They may think they've done nothing wrong to risk losing the school system's accreditation, he said, but they have a long history of it.
Judge Story told everyone in the courtroom as he was beginning the hearing that he's a parent and he understands the impact his decisions will have on "an awful lot of children." He said he understands this is important for the parents, the voters, and the school board members.
So, Judge Story said he will rule as quickly as he can, but he said he has to take the time to get it right.