DOUGHERTY CO., GA (WALB) - The future of a popular county-funded civics program was in question Wednesday night because of a vote by Dougherty County commissioners.
GCAPS, Georgia Civic Awareness Program for Students, is a year-long civics lesson for selected high school students who interact with other students across the state who also have an interest in how government works.
They even get to travel to Washington, D.C. to see government in action.
Parents and students are reacting strongly to votes by four commissioners that has stalled the GCAPS program, forcing the Dougherty County superintendent to cancel this weekend's student orientation.
Commissioners John Hayes, Clinton Johnson, Anthony Jones and Harry James voted to table the proposed restructuring of the GCAPS program.
The restructuring is taking place following accusations, and a million-dollar lawsuit, by Assistant County Administrator Michael McCoy claiming Commissioner Hayes harassed and defamed him during a GCAPS trip both men were on as chaperones.
The popular school program is on hold for now.
J.D. Sumner, the Dougherty County School System spokesperson, said "We are waiting, evaluating, taking it day by day to see if the mood changes on the commission. We just don't want to waste people's time with a program that won't ultimately be."
Jaqulyn Oliver, a parent of a Sherwood Christian Academy Junior, who was selected to participate in this year's GCAPS, said that she was "devastated" when she heard orientation was canceled.
"To do something like that which is so important to students? My son is a very smart kid, and wants to learn more about government," explained Oliver. "I don't understand this vote. I want answers as to why they said no to this program."
Commissioner Harry James said he voted no because "the way the program was drawn out wasn't what was agreed to earlier."
Commissioner Anthony Jones pointed to a meeting in early August where he laid out a plan "employing a contract person, one from the county, and one from the school, so each entity has equal interest" and those persons would present plans for the GCAPS program before implementation.
That didn't happen.
Instead, at a work session on August 29th, the school system introduced two employees who would share responsibility for the program, and named McCoy as a liaison for the county.
Nothing more was publicly said on the topic until Monday's vote to table the restructuring indefinitely.
Commissioner James called his vote Monday as having nothing to do with McCoy personally. "I am not unhappy with Mike. He (Mike) has said several times it (working on GCAPS) was a lot, that was why I wanted to hire a part-time person."
James also said he wants to "make sure the program is all in place before it takes off again."
Brandon Fenn, an Albany High graduate who is currently a student at Morehouse College, and went through the GCAPS program called it, "one of the greatest experiences that I have ever been in."
Fenn said he hopes county leaders can work out their differences for the sake of the students and the community.
"It creates a negative look for the city and the county number one. But, number two, the ultimate goal is to provide students with experiences," said Fenn. "They have got to take the politics out of it and think about the purpose, and the purpose is the future of the students and the city and the county."
The students are suppose to attend a state wide GCAPS meeting in October, and School Superintendent Butch Mosley hopes a compromise can be reached by the commission before then.
Commissioner Jones said that he is sure his fellow commissioners "can find common ground by October."
Jones said that in the future that "the commission as a whole needs to make sure if there is any controversy, we have a lot of discussion before the vote."
More on the GCAPS restructuring: