Category: A - Newsbreaks
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August 3--  The Montgomery County school board is considering a change to its public participation policy at school board meetings.

School Superintendent Randy Rodgers proposed the change at the board's August meeting.  Currently the board allows citizens to sign up immediately before meetings to address the board.  The proposed change would require citizens to request a board appearance at least three days before the meeting and require the approval of the school superintendent.

Rodgers says it's the same policy which was in effect during the administrations of former superintendents Dale Clark and Jim Paul Poole.  The current board has been publicly criticized during the public participation portion of its meetings for the past several months.  The board is expected to vote on the change at its September meeting.

Rodgers also questioned the journalistic ethics of print media covering school board meetings.  He claims The Advance newspaper in Vidalia uses it's "Your Mind on Line" page to print anonymous personal attacks and trash.

Here is a portion of a statement he read to the board and those attending the meeting.

"Someone very, very wise once told me that you can’t fight people that buy ink by the 55 gallon barrel. That may be so, but since I have become superintendent, I have had gallons of ink dumped on me by the media.

The Vidalia Advance accepts slanderous comments from people who call in anonymously and justifies their printing of such slander as the communication of opinion. They then convert those slanderous remarks to libel when they say things that are not true or are only half true. Many of the comments that are adverse are popularly known as preposterous, but still they print them under the justification that they are communicating opinions. (On a very personal note, I would not wish on anyone, not even the employees of The Vidalia Advance, the experience of having their wife, children, and mother read the trash that the Vidalia Advance allows in their paper regarding individuals and, in this case, me.)

As a staff member of a very much honored publication in another community, I was always taught that you should be very aware of your ability to be a bully and to unfairly and unscrupulously sway public opinion.  It seems that certain media are quick to hold us to standards of ethics and accreditation. At the same time, the Code of Ethics of the Georgia Press Association holds them to very high standards. It would be interesting if the print media would share their Code of Ethics in print and comment on how they strive to uphold the standards of journalism.

I cannot tell you how disappointed and hurt that I am that people that I known and have trusted in the past have unfairly treated me, personally as well as my family that is exposed to this treatment, and my earnest efforts to attempt to lead the school system in such a way that Montgomery County children are advantaged. I will not suggest reasons for such treatment, but I do know that my upbringing and training was such that I know the difference in what is right and wrong, here. This is wrong."

In actions at the meeting, the school board accepted the resignation of former Montgomery County High School principal Luke Smith whom will be paid the same retirement incentives as others who have retired from the system.  Smith will teach math this school term in Wheeler County.  Smith had threatened to sue to the school board after the board refused to renew his contract earlier this year.  The issue sparked a student demonstration in support of Smith at the high school.

The school board also approved a budget of nearly $11.2 million, four percent less than this year, and granted authority for the school system's central office to relocate at the appropriate time to the 1929 building on the middle-high school campus.  There are no firm plans on what to do with the current central office buildings when they are vacated, but Superintendent Rodgers says the shutting them down will save money.