“It was made explicitly clear that we could not advocate a vote or urge anyone to vote yes or no … from the school board all the way down to any employee,” said Randy Scamihorn.
SPLOST IV was approved by Cobb County voters in March, and passage of it will fund a total of $773 million in projects, maintenance improvements and purchases for both the Cobb and Marietta school districts by collecting a 1 cent sales tax from 2014 to 2018.
Georgia law prohibits government entities from using public funding to promote SPLOST.
Lance Lamberton, president of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, mailed a complaint as an individual, not on behalf of his organization, to the Georgia Department of Law on Friday.
“We have no objection to advocate for the Ed-SPLOST using their own resources to support it but using taxpayer money to advocate for the continuation of a sales tax is clearly against the law and a violation of the public trust and the entity response for such violations to be held to account,” said Lamberton.
He isn’t sure if the state has received the complaint, or what the penalties might be if the state finds Cobb in violation of the law.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to jail over this but maybe a fine or warning,” he said.
Scamihorn said he thought any questioning of infractions on behalf of the district or board members was resolved in February after east Cobb resident Kimberley Euston complained that board member Scott Sweeney was in violation of the law by writing articles law by writing articles about SPLOST in a local magazine and speaking publicly at school meetings in his area.
“Based on what Sam Olens concluded, on that event there was no infraction,” Scamihorn said. “That’s why my initial reaction (to Lamberton’s complaint) was disappointment because I thought we had already gotten through all this.”
Lauren Kane with the Georgia Attorney General’s Office previously responded when asked about Sweeney, “Assuming there was no expenditure of public funds, nothing improper occurred.”
“If he has evidence of wrong-doing, I’d appreciate that if he’d share it with the board,” Scamihorn said.
He learned about the complaint Saturday morning during the 11th District Convention in Marietta.
Cobb Schools spokesman Jay Dillon said the district will decline to comment on the complaint until after they have received it from the state.
Lamberton’s complaint listed three separate violations that were brought to his attention by CTA members.
He complained about a Mt. Bethel Elementary School newsletter called “The Mt. Bethel Bugle” that “urged a yes vote” from parents.
Lamberton said these letters were put in each students’ folders by employees, whose salaries are paid for by Cobb taxpayers.
He also contests that Walton High School and two Dickerson Middle School newsletters might be in violation because they were sent to parents and stated, “Vote Yes for Ed-SPLOST on Tuesday, March 19.”
Lamberton is not sure if these were all sent out by Parent Teacher Associations or the schools themselves, but has asked that the state look into that.
“The political establishment often does not play by the rules because they don’t think they have to,” he said.
Lamberton hasn’t contacted the school district to let officials know he’s filed the complaint but said it probably wouldn’t surprise them.
“I didn’t see what purpose that would serve,” he said. “They would say they were in compliance.”
Since filing his original complaint, others have come to his attention and Lamberton is considering filing more with the state.
“There was also a robocall that was made on behalf of the district that I was told said ‘the school district is urging you to vote yes,’” he said. “I didn’t include it in this complaint because I didn’t have the audio of it.”
He was told that the marquee outside Ford Elementary School in Acworth read “Vote Yes on SPLOST IV,” but he hasn’t been able to confirm that yet.
Lamberton thinks the Cobb Board of Elections might be in violation as well because he believes there is a law that states that polling places can’t be relocated during a special election .
“There were polling places moved from churches to schools and the law says you can’t do that,” he said. “There may be circumstances that I’m not aware of but it does raise one’s eyebrows.”