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Posted: October 7, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Action, leadership needed to fix complex problems

The future of our community and the children of Newton County are too important to be held hostage by a maverick school board member and a handful of anonymous cyber terrorists determined to destroy people and institutions.

As chronicled elsewhere in today's edition, the lawsuit against school board member Jeff Meadors by Alcovy High principal LaQuanda Carpenter hangs as a dark cloud over the administration of the county school system.

Due in part to the pending litigation, there is a serious administrative entanglement at the top level of the school system. As a defendant in the litigation, it is hard to imagine that Meadors can objectively deal with school system issues involving Alcovy and its principal. Nor can he be expected to be unbiased in dealing with Dennis Carpenter, the deputy school superintendent who is the spouse of the plaintiff in the suit and who is, himself, part of the tangled controversy.

As a matter of personal conscience, Meadors should recuse himself from issues involving the Carpenters. However, if he isn't involved in the governing the school system, his constituency has no voice.

At the same time, the school system finds itself in the position of having to be careful in how it deals with both the Carpenters from a personnel standpoint less school administrators be accused of retaliatory actions sparked by the litigation against Meadors.
To protect freedom of speech, the standard for proving libel is a stringent one and it remains to be seen if the evidence against the school board member supports such a contention. That will be a decision for the courts, though given the pace of legal action it could be a year, maybe longer, before the litigation goes to trial.

This ugly situation cannot be allowed to drag on that long.

It is impossible to ignore one byproduct of the litigation that is a problem right now. Some members of the school board have admitted they do not believe they can trust Meadors to maintain as confidential information that should not be shared with the general public, which creates an administrative conundrum. If they isolate Meadors and exclude him from such information, that does a disservice to the constituency he was elected to serve; if they don't do so, they may find themselves dancing through future legal minefields.

Neither option is good for our schools, or our county.

At the heart of the litigation is the issue of online commenting and social media commentary. The accusation that Meadors has participated in or encouraged waves of vicious online criticism directed toward a variety of people in the school system and the community has yet to be proven in court, but many, including this newspaper, believe it to be true.

The online attacks have gone beyond the pale of reasonable critique and criticism and deep into the territory of sensationalized gossip, innuendo and accusations of immorality and criminality. While we truly believe these acts to be the efforts of only a handful of cowardly and repulsive people, some of whom do not even live here in the county, the fact is, they are having a disastrous impact on our community.

It has to stop.

No one, not the Carpenters, not anyone in the school system, not anyone period deserve the sort of personal, vindictive, outrageous online attacks that have been directed toward the Alcovy principal and her husband. Common decency demands that the community reject the notion that such attacks are acceptable and hold accountable those responsible.

We would like to think Mr. Meadors would realize that his credibility has been irreparably damaged by the events of the past several months and would resign his position on the board of education, but we doubt that his personality would allow him to take such a community spirited action. We hope he proves us wrong.

If the people of the community truly are concerned about the damage being done to the schools by this sad melodrama, they should rally behind a recall effort to remove him from office. Recalls are difficult to enact and take enormous amounts of focused energy, but they aren't impossible to bring about.

As to the online commentaries, we challenge the Newton Citizen to join us here at The Covington News in committing to remove the public stage for the most outlandish comments by moderating such forums to prohibit and remove postings that stretch the bounds of civil discourse to outrageous limits.

While we believe that online commenting provides the potential for an important community dialogue, there is nothing that says we can't institute some reasonable standards into the conversation.

If, as a community we don't address these serious issues now, the long-term damage may be disastrous. The first step to positive change is for the good people of the county to wake up to the issue and see what is happening. We can no longer pretend that the problem is one that is going to go away on its own.

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