The Cherokee County School Board is set to discuss a request from Board Member Kelly Marlow that the cost of her attorney at her upcoming ethics violation hearing be paid for out of the Board of Education budget, which is mainly funded by taxpayers.
The item was placed on the agenda for Thursday’s school board meeting, which is planned to take place in the historic Canton High School Board Auditorium at 7 p.m. after a work session at 6 p.m.
Marlow sent a certified letter to Board Chair Janet Read dated Aug. 5 and requested that the school board pay for her attorney.
In a response email sent from Read to Marlow, Read said that she would submit an agenda item for the board to vote on Marlow’s expenditure request at their next meeting on Thursday.
“This expenditure would need to be authorized by the entire board at a board meeting,” Read wrote in the email.
In July, Marlow joined the board in a unanimous vote to hold the ethics violation hearing regarding a complaint letter she sent to AdvancED and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the agency in charge of accreditation for schools in the South.
“As the defendant, I am entitled to equal representation, and to have legal counsel present for the tribunal when it is called,” Marlow wrote to Read in the letter.
“Given the board is being represented by Mr. (Tom) Roach, at public expense, and neither he nor his office will be representing me in the matter (which is directly related to my work as a member of the Cherokee County School Board) I request that you authorize counsel at the rate at which Mr. Roach bills the school district.”
Marlow sent an email to Read on Friday, asking questions about the cost of the hearing “in the interest of full transparency and with the taxpayer interests in mind.”
After Read received the email from Marlow on Friday, Read questioned why Marlow was not concerned about the costs of her letter to SACS at the time she sent it.
“When she sent the letter to SACS, I don’t know that she was worried about what the financial implications of that would be,” Read said.
“So for her to be interested now, after the horse is already out of the barn, is a little bit confusing to me.”
In her email, Marlow asked who approved the wording on agenda request forms, and questioned why the item appeared under the section of the agenda titled “School Board Members” and not under “Attorney.”
Cherokee School District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said Friday the superintendent approved wording for the request forms and the board voted to adopt the agenda for each meeting, stating that “it is the superintendent’s recommended agenda.”
Jacoby said since a school board member called for the agenda item and not the attorney, it was placed under the “School Board Members” section.
Marlow’s next question asked if the hearing was a “legal action” or a “discussion.” Jacoby said that it is not a legal action, but that it is a hearing.
The next three questions asked in Marlow’s email were about the “cost to the taxpayers” of a hearing officer, court reporter and attorney, for the hearing that she voted to hold.
Jacoby said on July 24, when the board voted unanimously for Marlow’s ethics hearing, the board voted for School Board Attorney Tom Roach to represent the school board, for a hearing officer and court reporter to be hired, and for Marlow to choose if she wanted to bring her own representation to the hearing.
Jacoby said the estimated cost for a hearing officer is $500, and a court reporter is $400 to $600.
Jacoby said Roach would not charge the district for preparation time, but only for time at the hearing, and said it would cost “a couple hundred dollars.”
“We have to have a hearing officer, and we have to have a court reporter,” Jacoby said. “Through requirements of state law.”
Marlow’s final question was if there would be bids sent out to “ensure the best possible quality and price” for the hearing services.
Jacoby said Roach would hire the court reporter and hearing officer, and that the school board was not required to take bids in the matter.
She also said public interest could determine where the meeting takes place.
“We are monitoring interest in the meeting and will take appropriate steps to safely accommodate the public, including relocation to a larger venue, if needed,” Jacoby said.