According to published reports, a Monday meeting between Gov. Nathan Deal and leaders of several civil rights organizations, including local NAACP chapters, took a fiery turn after the governor reportedly told the groups to "find some good Black people to run" during the closed-door meeting.
The remarks came in response to whether Deal should be specifically seeking Black candidates to replace DeKalb County's ousted school board members. The groups said Deal was implying that finding qualified Black candidates would be difficult.
The AJC reports that Deal's spokesman, Brian Robinson, didn't dispute the remarks, but said they were part of a broader discussion over replacing the six suspended members, five of whom are Black.
Two of the three remaining members, who were allowed to stay because they were recently elected, are White.
Robinson said the governor was encouraging the groups to find qualifying candidates for the 2014 elections, and that the governor noted that DeKalb students he spoke with last week brought up academic, not racial, concerns in questioning Deal about his decision.
"The governor said to please get involved and make sure these Black candidates are good Black candidates so we can have a functioning board," Robinson told the AJC. "Gov. Deal wants to make sure every student graduates in schools that have kept their accreditation."
DeKalb is one of the nation's wealthiest majority-Black counties, but acrimony surrounding the racial split between the predominantly White northern suburbs and the rest of the county have long been an issue and have been brought to light more forcefully in recent weeks. Some north DeKalb residents are looking into creating a separate school district for their communities.
Last week Dekalb's NAACP President John Evans called the move "just another attempt by these people to get away from Black and poor folks."
Deal suspended six of the nine members of the DeKalb school board last month after an accrediting agency produced a report showing the board was dysfunctional and had a record of nepotism, infighting and questionable financial decisions. The Republican said he was uneasy with intervening in an predominately Democratic county, but that he took action because he feared metro Atlanta's economy would suffer if he did not.
More than 400 candidates applied for the vacated positions and a nominating panel worked through the weekend to vet the applications. They have reportedly interviewed about 60 top contenders, and members hope to have a list of 12 finalists later this week. Until new members are selected, the three remaining board members can't make any decisions because there are not enough members on the board to vote.
DeKalb Superintendent Michael Thurmon said he believes that problem will be solved soon.
"I'm expecting by the end of the week to have a quorum, which is at least five if not nine" members, said Thurmond.
The new superintendent, who was appointed earlier this year, said that he will not be involved in the board selection process, though, and will focus instead on day-to-day administration.