DeKalb School Board member responds to annexation involvement allegations

Posted by March 20, 2015
DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

This story has been updated.

By Dena Mellick

DeKalb County School Board member Marshall Orson is responding to a report by CBS 46 news that said he has allegedly been secretly supporting Atlanta annexation. He told Decaturish the report was “misleading and incomplete.”

The CBS 46 report said Orson had met multiple times with annexation advocates, and now Rep. Karla Drenner of Avondale Estates wants him investigated.

Drenner told the Atlanta CBS affiliate that a constituent filed an open records request and obtained Orson’s emails, passing them along to her.

In the report, Drenner said, “When I read these emails, I was surprised by the fact that a member of the DeKalb County School Board appears to be in support of decimating DeKalb County Schools.”

DeKalb Strong, an organization that is against Atlanta annexation efforts, released the emails on its website. They show email conversations between Orson, Together in Atlanta representatives, and Atlanta City Councilmember Alex Wan.

CBS 46 Reporter Jeff Chirico asked Orson about statements that could be interpreted as pro-annexation in his emails such as, “This is a complex issue which, if not handled properly, runs the risk of pitting the school community against annexation.”

In another email, Orson writes to Wan and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver D-Decatur, “As we all have discussed at various times, a key to a successful annexation push will be to keep school attendance zones intact, particularly Fernbank and Briar Vista.”

Orson said in the CBS report his emails are being misinterpreted and it’s his responsibility as a public official to gather information from as many people as possible.

In a statement to Decaturish Friday, Orson said,

The CBS Channel 46 report was misleading and incomplete, based on a small number of emails taken out of context. The full record shows that I have actively engaged with stakeholders on both sides of the annexation issue, including a constituent who has since become a leader within DeKalb Strong, offering to collaborate on a strategy that prioritizes cohesion of schools.

As a DeKalb School Board member, my responsibility is to the entire school district. As annexation and incorporation conversations have grown in intensity, I recognized that such possibilities necessitated planning for a process that would ensure an orderly change in the event changes occurred and no matter what the formal shift in local government. I have always and will continue to look for solutions that minimize a disruption in school services and avoid a reduction in access by, and opportunity for, all our students, including the possibility of joint operation of schools between APS and DCSD under an intergovernmental agreement. We must prioritize an outcome that keeps our school communities intact and the focus on excellence across the district, while actively planning for all possible scenarios.

Atticus LeBlanc is a DeKalb business owner who unsuccessfully ran for DeKalb’s School Board last year and is also a supporter of the DeKalb Strong group. He said that although he campaigned for the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, he is opposed to Atlanta’s annexation of Druid Hills because of the impact on the schools.

LeBlanc said Orson has been helpful to his efforts to oppose annexation by trying to facilitate compromise between the Druid Hills Charter Cluster and DeKalb County, right around the time the emails are dated.

He said once the Druid Hills Charter Cluster fell through and it became clear an annexation could happen, it was necessary for Orson to be part of those conversations.

“It has been apparent for over a year that the failure of the DHCC petition could result in Atlanta annexation. So once DCSS refused to allow the re-submitted cluster petition to be heard, everyone knew the annexation was going to garner more support,” said LeBlanc.

He continued, “Some of us, including Mr. Orson, continued to encourage DCSS to compromise with the cluster folks to avoid annexation until as recently as last month, when Superintendent Thurmond supposedly compared the charter cluster discussion to the civil rights protests in Selma. I think Mr. Orson’s emails allude to, if there’s going to be an annexation, how do you still figure out what’s the lesser of evils? How do you think up a more palatable solution, knowing what the consequences of annexing the area are?”

LeBlanc said, “As much as someone wants to point to a conspiracy, the fact of the matter is, it’s a complex, difficult issue that would have been a lot easier to work out earlier. But unfortunately, the resubmitted petition was never brought up for a vote and calmer heads didn’t prevail.”

On Friday afternoon, Dr. Melvin Johnson, chair of the DeKalb Board of Education, released the following statement about the allegations:

Recent news reports and communications from stakeholders of the DeKalb County School District have raised important and serious allegations that Marshall Orson, a member of the Board, has violated the principles and protocols in the Board Member Handbook as well as Board policy.  In accordance with established Board protocol, the DeKalb County Board of Education will consider these allegations at the next Board meeting on Wed., April 1, 2015 in the Cabinet Room of the Robert R. Freeman Administrative Center, 1701 Mountain Industrial Blvd., Stone Mountain, GA 30083.

Decaturish has reached out to Rep. Drenner for comment and will update the story as we get more information.

This story has been updated to include the statement from Dr. Melvin Johnson.


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  • DHer

    I agree with Mr. leBlanc. It is complex but some of the problems can be reduced. Rep Oliver is preparing a bill that would permit APS to contract with DCSS. This would permit students attending schools in the proposed annex area to continue to attend those schools. Lots of details to be worked out, but such an agreement would prevent the displacement of students whose homes are not in the annexed area. The key will be the flexibility of the DCSS. So far its been their way or the highway.

    • guest

      I am fascinated by that proposition I assume it would be an intergovernmental agreement.. but would that not require that it pass out of the Atlanta and DeKalb Delegations? And then would it not also require voter approval and or approval of both School Boards?

      • MedlockDad

        This is why it will never happen.

  • DHH

    I read the emails. They do not allow for one to reach any conclusions. They are also super boring. I don’t see why Dekalb Strong is trumping them up. It makes them look a bit unhinged, which is the last thing they need at this juncture.

    • notapunk

      Lack of experience on DeKalb Strong’s part. They really are just one half-step above high school gossips. It’s truly sad there’s no maturity to the opposition. They are doomed to fade in the run-up to any referendum because they only trade in rumor and innuendo, not fact. A yard sign does not a movement make. Name-calling and accusations without evidence are not strategies.

  • Emory Watching You

    I’m disappointed in Rep. Drenner’s and Decatur Strong’s conduct in this episode. I thought they were advocating for the best interest of the county and the children in our schools. This conduct demonstrates otherwise. Shame on them.

    • MedlockDad

      They seem to be much more interested in the welfare of the majority of the students in the Druid Hills Cluster than does Marshall Orson, who is supposed to represent the area. He seems to be more interested in the smoothest path for annexation of Druid Hills into Atlanta no matter what happens to those left behind.

      It is clear to me that he has breached the spirit, if not the letter, of his oath of office and should resign.

  • Go falcons

    This seems overblown. The emails state the obvious and it looks like Orson might have been the only one bringing up effects on schools.

  • Whodean

    Save as many kids as possible from Dekalb schools bureaucracy, annex as much as can into Atlanta.

    Mr. Orson I’d to be commended for baking the kids over the vile county machinations

  • travelingfool

    You mean the conspiracy theory TIA was working behind the scenes to change the border and put out a statement saying as such THEN 2 days later the border changes? You mean when LaVista Hills agreed with Tucker on a border that was decided by a legislator committee and
    Months later after LaVista meet with committee members LaVista border was changed.
    Why did it take an Open Records request for this to change me out. If thre was nothing secret why wasn’t Orsen transparent and say he was in discussion?

  • JP

    Rep Drenner is very manipulative and will stoop to any level to defeat any sort of annexation. There was word this week of her trying to draw laurel ridge into TIA’s map. Every community should have the right to send-determination, ye shewill do whatever it takes to prevent those who live in Druid Hills and the surrounding areas from their own opinion. TIA’s proposal will either fail or pass, but her moves point out the same old Dekalb tactics that block any form of change. It’s obvious much of the Together in Atlanta opposition is coming from outside the proposed annexation area who happen to benefit from the other area’s resources. They do have a right to be concerned, but the idea of putting all of your eggs in a basket with the likes of the do nothing party is ludicrous. IMHO, Orsen was simply caught between a rock and a hard place. In addition, it also seems fishy how fast the Dekalb board responded to this report. He obvious has enemies who do not want the status quo threatened. They want to skewer alive anyone who prevents them access to valuable resources in unincorporated Dekalb county that they have wielded for far too long! Shame on Rep Drenner and her cohorts.

    • Ned

      I read Ms. Drenner’s involvement as stepping up to represent her constituents that would be shut out of DHHS, and wouldn’t even get to vote on it as they are not in the annexation zone. If the School Board reps allegedly representing those areas had stepped up to the plate maybe she would have backed off.
      And BTW, the whole county paid for Fernbank Science Center, not just Druid Hills.

  • szq

    I would certainly take anything that the DeKalb Strong PAC says with a grain of salt. They claim that they want a “time out” and a “moratorium” on cityhood and annexation initiatives, but what they really want to do is stop them at the legislature. They are not the least bit interested in the people in the proposed city and annexation areas having the opportunity to vote in a referendum. They claim that they want to “fix DeKalb County first”, but put forth no effort to do that. Their mode of operation is fear mongering, rumor, name-calling, and accusation without facts.

  • hank

    Orson is correct in saying that he’s worked with people on both sides of the issue. Targeting him is unfair, but he only has to answer to his district so he’s fine. I just wish the energy directed at him were instead focused on the more responsible, like Rep Oliver. She’s kidding us if she thinks that schools in two districts will agree to play ball if annexation happens. Important: Anyone who discounts or dismisses the D-strong folks is putting their heads in the sand. The opposition to annexation, etc is large and vehement, and has to be taken seriously. If Atlanta annexation is successful, expect these same voters to go after Mr Wan in an election down the road.

    • whodean

      The Snookers Are selfish grey hairs who don’t want these kids to have a better education, indeed a better shot at success than what the vile Dekalb machine”provides”.

    • MedlockDad

      Perhaps he should tell us how many closed-door strategy sessions he has had with the leadership of TIA and Emory as compared to similar strategy sessions related to opposition of annexation.

      He should be targeted as his sworn responsibility as a school board member is representing the entire DeKalb School District. If someone can explain to me how meeting behind closed doors with ATL annexation proponents on the best ways to smooth over opposition of annexation with respect to schools is bettering things for all of DeKalb County Schools, I am all ears.

  • Guest

    Problem is, the Druid Hills contingent has another agenda. They don’t send their kids to public school. They are using the cluster denial to further their own agenda. Opportunistic.

    • DHH

      Tell us more about this agenda! Does it involve building landing strips for aliens who secretly influence international banking? If so, count me in.

  • whodean

    The APS schools in DHHS area are excellent (but you know that).

  • An American Patriot

    misleading and incomplete.

    Why can’t politicians just tell it like it is? We need to remember this when he comes up for re-election.

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