The re-election campaign of Gainesville school board member Kelvin Simmons may come to a grinding halt as a result of a change in state law regarding nepotism and school board members’ eligibility for election.
Simmons, who has been a fixture on the Gainesville school board since his appointment in 1991, is married to longtime Gainesville educator Audrey Simmons, who is an assistant principal at Gainesville Middle.
House Bill 251, which also contains changes in school choice laws, declares no one with an immediate family member sitting on a local board of education or serving as the local school superintendent or as a principal, assistant principal, or system administrative staff in the local school system can serve as a member of the same board of education. The bill defines an immediate family member as “a spouse, child, sibling, or parent or the spouse of a child, sibling or parent.”
The law change applies only to local board of education members seeking election or appointment on or after July 1. Simmons is seeking election on Nov. 3.
“Right now I plan on running,” Simmons said. “I need to find out more.”
Simmons said he still intends on qualifying for the Ward 4 seat on the Gainesville Board of Eduction between Aug. 31 and Sept. 2. At this time, Simmons is unopposed, he said.
Current school board members with a family member in an administrative position within the same school system can complete their terms, said state Attorney General spokesman Russ Willard.
Willard said the state Attorney General’s Office has submitted the anti-nepotism law to the U.S. Department of Justice for preclearance. The department has at least 60 days to preclear the law.
He said regardless of when the federal department preclears the law, making it enforceable in Georgia, the law makes any school board candidate with a family member in an administrative position within the same school system ineligible for elections after July 1 of this year.
“HB 251 is valid state law right now, it just can’t be enforced until the justice department preclears it,” Willard said. “But once (the) justice (department) preclears it, it goes into full force and effect.”
Whether or not the justice department preclears the law before the Nov. 3 election day is irrelevant, Willard said.
“There’s no magic (date) prior to the election,” he said. “Anybody who goes out and qualifies for a term of office that starts after July 1 is on notice that if they’ve got a relative who falls within one of those positions, they may be ineligible to serve either prior to their election, prior to their being sworn in, or even after they’ve been sworn in.”
There are no Hall County school board members with family members in administrative positions in the Hall school system, said Superintendent Will Schofield.
Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said he voted against HB 251 on the last day of this year’s legislative session because he disagreed with the school choice legislation, but he agrees with the anti-nepotism section.
“I think it’s in the best interest of the state. And I think there have been issues not only locally, but in other county jurisdictions.
This has been a major issue as far as conflicts of interest,” Rogers said. “The nepotism issue is an issue that concerns all elected officials.”
Angela Palm, policy director for the Georgia School Boards Association, said she received a flurry of phone calls from school board members this spring on the anti-nepotism law, but has heard no recent outcries against the legislation as it’s on course to be enforced.
The Ward 1 seat on the Gainesville school board, which is presently filled by board Chairman David Syfan, is also up for election this November.