Newton County resident Don Gresham, who qualified to run for the District 2 seat on the Board of Education Tuesday, is a convicted sex offender, having been prosecuted for sodomy in DeKalb County in 1988.
According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, Gresham - who was arrested under his first name of Horace - served just under 10 months of a one year sentence at Rivers State Prison in Hardwick and was released on May 14, 1989.
Gresham registered to compete against incumbent Rickey Corley on the Republican ticket in the July 15 primary for the BOE seat. Since the state does not require those convicted of sex crimes before 1996 to register their location, Gresham was not known as a convicted sex offender.
Corley said he was disturbed to hear the information, but is pleased the truth is now public knowledge.
"I feel good that the information came out when it did," Corley said. "I don't feel good about what he did of course, but at least now the public knows his background."
Gresham may have sealed his political fate even before his campaign left the ground. Should he proceed with his candidacy, the retired postal veteran will have to beat Corley, who is seeking his fourth term.
Corley said Wednesday that he welcomed the challenge and was excited at the prospect of a good race for his seat. But in light of the recent news, it appears the race may come down to Corley and Eddie Johnson, who plans to represent the Democratic Party.
According to Steve Bray, chairman of the Newton County Republican Party, Gresham and all other candidates signed an affidavit stating they "have never been convicted or sentenced in any court of competent jurisdiction for...a felony involving moral turpitude...and at least 10 years have elapsed from the date of the completion of the sentence without a subsequent conviction of another felony involving moral turpitude."
Bray said he and other party members will independently verify the allegations before presenting Donna Morrison, superintendent of the Newton County Board of Elections, with their certification of candidates on Monday.
He added that if the allegations are true, Gresham is not eligible to be on the ballot according to the party's election code.
"Of all of the positions eligible for election, the only candidates required to submit a criminal background check are the candidates for sheriff," Bray said. "We the officers of the party had no prior knowledge of these matters regarding Mr. Gresham. The Newton County Republican Party places a high value on supporting candidates of integrity within our community."
Several calls to Gresham for comment were not returned as of press time, and it is unknown whether he plans to withdraw. Meanwhile, Corley plans to proceed accordingly and said the news brings into perspective the ultimate responsibility of a BOE member.
"Safety is paramount with our children and I don't think having someone with that kind of background is fit to serve on the board," Corley added. "Ultimately the people will decide, but they have the right to choose who they want."
Jenny Thompson contributed to this report.