Miller school vote leads to community controversy - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Miller school vote leads to community controversy

June 12, 2007

Colquitt --  Controversy over the firing of the Miller County Elementary School principal turns violent. Someone fired seven shots into the Miller County Liberal newspaper office over the weekend.  No one was there at the time, but last week the newspaper editor was attacked in his office.

Last week in a 3 to 2 vote, the Miller County School Board officially decided to replace elementary school principal Kent Richardson. The close vote brought many questions as to why, including ones from the newest member of the board.

 "I can't find anybody who can give a reason why they wanted to get rid of the man. He was doing a good job. All the teachers, all the kids all were satisfied with him," said District 3 School Board Member David Lovering.

The morning following the vote, a 911 call came in, from the Miller county Liberal office.

 "Upon arrival, I was told that Terry Toole, the publisher, had been assaulted by Mark Merrit," Colquitt Police Asst. Chief Jason Wells.

In addition to being publisher, 71-year-old Toole is also the father-in-law of the fired principal. Merrit is the husband of a school board member.

 "He was told by another citizen, not by his wife, that Terry and her had gotten in an altercation the night before," said Wells.

Police say Merritt claimed he didn't want his wife to be scared, so he took matters into his own hands.

"Toole stated that he came in, grabbed him around the throat, threatened him bodily harm in front of several witnesses, and Mark voluntarily came up to the sheriff's office and turned himself in, and gave us a statement to that effect," the Asst. Chief said.

Police charged him with terroristic threats and acts, and personal battery on a person over the age of 65. Over the weekend, the attack on the paper continued when seven shots were fired into the Liberal and adjacent buildings. "We're in the process of investigating that case at this moment," Wells said.

While many Miller Countians say they're sure the incident stems from the school board controversy, police can't confirm it. Most are hoping it's the last act of violence they'll see surrounding the controversy.

"I hope it will all die down and maybe, maybe we can work this thing out. But we're going to have to everybody get together and get the young 'uns in their mind, instead of the issues, personal issues or whatever," Lovering said.

In the meantime, police say they've bumped up patrolling and security at the Liberal until things are resolved.

Miller County School Superintendent Robby Phillips says Beth Mithen, a four-year employee with the school system's central office has been appointed as the new principal of Miller County Elementary.

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