Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times
Three members of the “Quitman Ten Plus Two," who were removed from the Brooks County Board of Education in the wake of voter fraud charges, were reinstated at the regular session board meeting Tuesday night.
Former school board president Nancy Whitfield-Dennard, and board members Linda Troutman and Diane Thomas were met with applause from a near-capacity crowd as they took the oath and were sworn back into the positions that many — such as Valdosta NAACP President Leigh Touchton — felt they were unjustly removed from by Gov. Nathan Deal.
“We believe that they have been unfairly targeted,” said Touchton.
Whitfield-Dennard, Troutman and Thomas, along with nine other Brooks County residents (one of whom is now deceased) were indicted two years ago on several counts of unlawful possession of ballots, etc., related to hundreds of absentee ballots that arrived in their favor in the 2010 Brooks school board election. The case originally involved 10 defendants, leading to the “Quitman Ten” reference, but two more people were later indicted.
“Under the law, they are entitled to get back on the board,” said current school board President Brad Shealy.
Shealy, who is also an assistant Southern District attorney, was appointed to serve as president of the board after Whitfield-Dennard was removed. Shealy served as school board president for many years prior to Whitfield-Dennard’s abbreviated term.
“I’m board president until the end of the year,” said Shealy.
Though Whitfield-Dennard was president at the time of her removal, she did not return to the position and Shealy continued acting as president after she was sworn back in Tuesday.
Shealy said it is his understanding that he is to remain president until an election by board members takes place in January.
“That’s my understanding,” said Shealy.
Whitfield-Dennard, Troutman and Thomas were able to be reinstated to the board because, despite the still active indictment, they have essentially not been tried in a “speedy” manner as guaranteed by the law.
Shealy said they had to be tried in the term or in the subsequent term with which they were indicted. Because no trial has yet taken place, they were able to be reinstated to the board of education but not exonerated of their indictments.
“They still have to be tried,” said Shealy.
Whitfield-Dennard, Troutman and Thomas will serve on the board until their terms run out or if there is a conviction in the case.
“I think it’s symbolic that this is happening,” said Touchton.
She said Deal issuing the executive order was very unprecedented. However, Touchton feels that the board members being reinstated will only help their cause and cause a jury to question the validity of the charges. Activist George Boston Rhynes agrees.
“In the community, we feel that this will probably weaken the case in the eyes of the general public,” said Rhynes.
Rhynes stated that this will lead people to question whether there is really enough evidence to justify a trial.
“I think it has put an ugly shadow over Brooks County,” said Rhynes.
Other than Shealy’s statements prior to the meeting, no board members made comment during the proceedings of the meeting and there was no public participation on the agenda.
South Georgia Circuit District Attorney Joe Mulholland has been appointed by the Attorney General’s Office to serve as the special prosecutor in this case. At this time, a trial date has not been set.
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