CANTON — School Board member Kelly Marlow failed to gain support Thursday night for any of her requests to limit the costs of her upcoming code of ethics violation hearing.
The Cherokee County School Board voted 1-6, with Marlow in favor, to deny her suggested cost cap on attorney fees, and failed to second Marlow’s other motions associated with her upcoming code of ethics violation hearing, thereby denying all of her requests.
Marlow said that she “brought this up” at the last two meetings because she said the board had “a fiduciary responsibility” to fill in the financial impact box on agenda items, noting that there wasn’t a number on the hearing that was passed unanimously July 24.
“I voted on the hearing, so I don’t have a problem with the hearing,” Marlow said. “What I have a problem with is the fact that there’s a ‘blank check.’ ‘N/A’ in the financial impact box is contrary to board policy.”
Board Chair Janet Read responded, stating that she thought “this is one instance where I don’t know that we can fill in that box.”
On Aug. 20, Marlow requested that the board cap its costs for an attorney at $500, court reporter at $250 and hearing officer at $250, for the ethics violation hearing that is set for Oct. 2 regarding her June complaint letter to AdvancED and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the agency in charge of school accreditation.
At Thursday night’s meeting, School Board Member Michael Geist seconded Marlow’s motion to set a cap on attorney fees for the hearing, allowing two speakers and the board to discuss the request. However, Marlow was the lone board member to vote in favor of her request.
“In theory, I like the idea of proposing a cap for expenditure,” Geist said. “Unless we’re sure that the cap suggested by Ms. Marlow would be appropriate. … It might be better set by the school system.”
During discussion of Marlow’s first cap request, School Board Attorney Tom Roach said he wanted to “echo” something that had previously been discussed.
“If you can tell us how long it’ll take (the hearing), I can tell you how much it’s going to cost,” Roach said. “It’s really impossible for the board to propose a cap, unless you propose a time cap … I don’t know that you’re doing yourself a service by proposing a time cap, but that would be the only way to even approach that.”
School Board member Robert Wofford said that “the board should do whatever is necessary” to conduct the hearing “in a professional manner.”
Wofford explained his position with an example.
“My car broke down and I took it to the auto dealership, and they were going to charge me ‘X number of dollars’ per hour for however long it took them to fix the car,” he said. “But a guy down the street said he’ll fix it for $20. Might save money initially, but there’s no telling what kind of job (will be) done.”
Marlow’s other two agenda requests regarding cost caps for the upcoming hearing failed because no board members seconded her motions to set caps on the cost for a hearing officer and court reporter.
Cherokee School District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said Tuesday that the district had already set figures for the hearing officer and Roach.
“Hearing officer Hugh Dorsey has been hired at a rate of $300 an hour; the school board attorney stated his fee will be $150 an hour,” Jacoby said. “The school board attorney has a pending offer for a court reporter.”
The code of ethics violation hearing is to determine if Marlow violated the board’s ethics policy by sending a complaint letter to AdvancED in June, alleging the district was in violation of the agency’s standards and/or policies.
On Aug. 19, the agency found the “Cherokee County School District is not in violation of AdvancED Accreditation Standards and/or policies.”
On Aug. 15, Marlow requested that her attorney costs for the hearing be covered by the Board of Education, but that was denied by a 2-5 vote, with Marlow and Geist in favor of the expense.
On Thursday, the first speaker to address Marlow’s requests at the meeting was John Carter of Ball Ground.
“It doesn’t sound like fiscal conservatism drives these proposals, so much as the desire to retaliate if the decision of the board displeases that one member,” Carter said.
Clark Menard of Woodstock was the other person to speak at Thursday’s meeting, and he was cut off twice while addressing the board by Marlow, who referred to board policy as stating that a “speaker may not address a board member directly.”
Menard was first stopped by Marlow when he said “I’d like to pinpoint the exact moment when our board member from District 1 jumped the shark.”
Roach then addressed Menard, asking that he keep his speech away from members of the board.
“When this particular person wrote out, not one, but seven pages of critical questions on the audit, always forgetting to bring them,” Menard continued, before being interrupted by Marlow again.
Marlow then addressed Menard, stating board policy, and Roach then said he thought Menard was addressing general things that happened in the past.
“I’ll skip to the punch line,” Menard then said. “The absurdity is that we’re here discussing this. The absurdity is that there’s only one board member that can cap this at zero. That board member can do so by admitting that they broke the code of ethics, or by simply stating, ‘I resign.’”
The ethics hearing for Marlow will be Oct. 2 at 6 p.m. at the historic Canton High School Board Auditorium at 111 Academy St. in Canton.