CANTON — A hearing will be held into whether school Board member Kelly Marlow violated the school board’s ethics policy after a unanimous vote by the Cherokee County Board of Education Wednesday night.
A record crowd of about 1,000 people packed the Cherokee High School auditorium close to capacity to hear the decision on whether Marlow should be censured for calling in the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an accreditation agency, to investigate the school superintendent, board chair and the board.
School Board Chairwoman Janet Read made the motion to call for the hearing and it was seconded by Board Member Michael Geist.
Marlow joined her fellow board members in raising her hand for the 7-0 decision in favor of the ethics hearing.
The crowd reacted to the decision with a resounding standing ovation.
Ten people spoke to the board regarding the vote on whether to conduct the hearing, but none of the board members asked any questions or offered comments before their unanimous vote.
Smart Citizens Rally Against Marlow, or SCRAM!, creator Christine Rea of Canton said she was at the meeting to present a petition to the school board, “signed by over 1,200 Cherokee County residents” that “asks the District 1 representative to please rescind her letter to SACS.”
“This action by one solitary board member acting on a personal vendetta has jeopardized futures of 39,000 students,” Rea said.
Among those in support of calling for the ethics hearing is Julie Olvin of Canton, who said she “enumerated eight separate violations of the board’s ethics policy” by Marlow, her District 1 representative.
But others were there to speak in favor of Marlow.
Debbie Dooley of Gwinnett County said she was asked by tea party activists to come to the meeting and support them in the efforts for Marlow.
“I have been appalled at some of the reaction that I’ve actually seen simply because we’re asking questions,” Dooley said.
Others in support of Marlow included John Hiland of Woodstock, who said the tea party was at the meeting “to learn.” Hiland said if Marlow was “run off, the tea party will elect someone else, maybe a number of someone elses.”
Debbie Staver of Woodstock said it “doesn’t seem fair to have a lynch mob against a person who asked those questions.”
But others spoke out against Marlow and in favor of the hearing.
Josh Markham of Canton, who said he lived in Marlow’s post, called Marlow’s actions “unethical and inappropriate.”
Donnamarie Alcott, who said she has represented parents during the SACS CASI accreditation process twice, and said she spoke at the meeting to express “serious concerns” about Marlow’s complaint that she called “reckless,” and “without merit or basis.”
Alcott received one of many standing ovations during the comment portion of the agenda item regarding the hearing.
Michelle Albers of Woodstock said Marlow did not make decisions based on her own “independent judgment,” and noted Marlow’s “advisers.”
“When I voted for this board member … there was one name on the ballot,” Albers said.
Finally, CCSD high school student Taylor Poole spoke, and said to the school board “You are my voice.”
“When the letter was written and sent off to SACS, were any of the almost 39,000 students that you represent asked their opinion about their school system?” Poole asked.
According to school board policy, Marlow will be allowed 30 days of notice prior to the hearing and will be allowed to bring her own legal representation to the hearing. School Board Attorney Tom Roach will represent the CCSD and Marlow will be allowed to present witnesses.
A hearing officer will conduct the code of ethics violation hearing, and a court reporter will document the proceedings. The hearing will be open to the public and if a two-thirds majority agrees that Marlow violated the code of ethics, related to governance structure and conduct as a board member, the board can sanction Marlow.
In her letter to AdvancED SACS, Marlow accused the board of being “no longer able to effectively govern,” along with other accusations. Marlow requested a formal investigation of the Cherokee County School District by AdvancED SACS, the agency in charge of school accreditation for the South, in her letter.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the agency said a team reviewed Marlow’s complaint. AdvancED SACS Vice President of Communication Jennifer Oliver said the agency would continue to monitor the situation in Cherokee County, but currently has no plans to take action.
“Our team has reviewed the complaint, and they’re not taking any action right now but they are monitoring the situation,” Oliver said.
Read said in an email obtained by the Tribune that she did “an extensive review of Board Ethics Policy” and had “several discussions with the school board attorney” before deciding to ask for the item to be put on the agenda for Wednesday night’s meeting.
Marlow, her political adviser Robert Trim and Cherokee Republican Party Secretary Barbara Knowles were arrested on felony charges earlier in July of making false statements to police that Superintendent of Schools Frank Petruzielo tried to run them over with his car in downtown Canton following a heated school board meeting.
Both Trim and Knowles were in attendance at the meeting Wednesday night.