When reformers condemn Georgia's pay to play government under House Speaker Glenn Richardson, they may ask how white voters tolerate it.
Clayton County. (To the right, former school board chair Norreese Haynes.)
While the problem of white governance is one of money and political organization, the problem of black governance is one of apathy and political opportunism. You decide which is worse for the prospect of real reform.
Clayton County went from mostly-white to mostly-black in the 1990s, then acquired one of the most dysfunctional governments anywhere. The county as a whole is in the process of going broke, despite having a ton of taxable business property within its boundaries, as well as the Atlanta Airport.
But the real story here, its true shame, is Clayton County's school board.
Whose fault is it? While both sides in this fiasco charge their critics with racism, this travesty is mainly the result of apathy on the part of Clayton voters and the machinations of a white influence peddler named John Trotter (left).
Trotter's "teacher" group, the Metro Association of Classroom Educators, got five of its members onto that board, and Trotter personally contributed to the campaigns of three more. Its field director was Haynes, eventually thrown off the board for not living in the county.
Trotter was able to do this by taking advantage of changing demographics. His candidates were black in a county that had recently become majority-black and whose previous white political regime had a habit of dismissing black complaints.
But in the process Clayton acquired a school board that was lazy, petty, and so foolish it lost the district's accreditation. Pleas by the kids were ignored, people who tried to volunteer time and help were dismissed, and the response by the accused to their accusers was usually racism.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools took away the district's accreditation for at least a year on September 1. Just before they acted Governor Sonny Perdue, moving belatedly on a judge's recommendation, personally fired four board members -- Yolanda Everett, Lois Baines-Hunter, Sandra Scott and Michelle Strong. SACS' objections to the four mainly involved their ties to MACE, and charges they were doing the group's bidding. The reaction by the four? Defiance, blame-shifting, and more charges of racism.
Oh, and the district is now broke.
Most of the real crimes were petty, pathetically so. Sandra Scott tried to get her kid's football coach fired. Haynes supported raises for his members, never mind the obvious conflict of interest. Strong got her husband hired as a "graduation coach," then voted to give him a raise.
The Sunday Paper, a white-owned weekly launched by former Atlanta Journal-Constitution employees, pinned the blame on citizens:
So, with the stakes so high, and seven school board seats up for grabs, one would think that voters would have lined up at the polls last Tuesday.
Nope. Only about 12 percent of registered voters turned out to cast ballots for 31 school board candidates competing for seven seats.
While voters were willing to reject the incompetents in May elections, the first reformer to step up to the plate was stymied by the majority. A superintendent hired on a questionable contract by the old board majority pleaded for patience. So far the only concrete policy has been on uniforms. They want them.
The larger problem is the divisions within the black community. Everyone, it seems, is a one man (or one woman) interest group. Everyone wants to use the tragedy to advance a narrow agenda. The county lacks the kind of business leadership that could create a united front for reform, developing a solid program and a list of candidates who could turn things around.
That could yet come, perhaps from the battered real estate community. It would not take a lot of money to turn things around. The main investment would be time -- time spent developing a program of reform, identifying people to lead it, and bringing voters along. Time making sure that everyone associated with the effort was ethical and competent.
But until that leadership arrives whites will use the example of Clayton County to argue that black leadership is, by its nature, inept, that any candidate favored by black voters is not to be trusted. Thus the two machines, white and black, buttress one another.
As you will see later in this series, it's the same throughout the South.