published Friday, March 19th, 2010

Two in Ga. governor's race were accused of misconduct

ATLANTA — Two former high school teachers running for governor in Georgia were suspended from their jobs in the past for sexual misconduct involving students, according to state documents.

In unrelated cases, the two men — one Democrat and one Republican — were accused of inappropriate relationships with female students. Both were suspended from teaching for a week, then resigned but denied wrongdoing.

The candidates were long shots to win the race, but the news could affect the crowded primary elections in July, political experts said. The governor’s office in Georgia is likely to be in play for either party, after a streak of scandals last fall weakened the normally dominant state Republicans.

The teachers’ cases were reported Wednesday night by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and detailed in publicly available state documents.

The Republican, Ray McBerry Jr., had his teaching certificate suspended in 2004, after findings by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission that he had conducted an inappropriate relationship with a student from a different school and deliberately misrepresented his actions to school investigators.

McBerry, who taught history, denied the accusations in a statement on Thursday, saying that he was trying only to counsel the student, who he said was struggling with alcohol and drug use and became “attached and emotionally dependent” on him.

The fact that his punishment was a week of suspension while school was not in session demonstrates, he wrote, “that there was little belief among anyone involved in the process that any actual wrongdoing had occurred.”

Still, he resigned shortly after the complaint was filed and is president of a company that produces radio and television commercials.

The Democratic candidate, Carl L. Camon, a former mayor of Ray City, a small town in southern Georgia, was accused by multiple students in 2007 of making sexual remarks, staring at female students’ breasts and looking up their skirts.

He resigned in October from the school, in nearby Valdosta, rather than accept the commission’s weeklong suspension. He said students concocted false stories about him in retaliation for calls to their parents about bad grades.

“One girl even told me, ‘We’re going to get you,”’ he said in an interview. “I’m not accepting one minute of punishment for something I did not do.”

The commission report mentions that Camon was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with students in a previous case but that no probable cause for punishment was found.

Both candidates said they would continue their campaigns for their parties’ nominations to succeed Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican who cannot seek re-election because of term limits. Roy Barnes, a former governor, appears to be the front-runner among the five Democrats running, and the state insurance commissioner, John Oxendine, leads the field of seven Republican candidates.

In recent years, Georgia has been a reliably Republican state, with the party controlling both Senate seats in Washington and the state legislature. But the governor’s race this year is a tossup, in part because of scandals involving state Republicans, including the recent resignation of the powerful house speaker, Glenn Richardson, after his attempted suicide and allegations of an affair with a lobbyist.

Political experts said the news about the two teachers’ pasts would probably not benefit either party, although they could help the front-runners’ goal of reaching the 50 percent of the vote necessary to avoid a runoff in the primary.

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