CANTON — Almost as soon as the school board began discussion Thursday night, School Board Chair Janet Read brought up concerns about recent actions of School Board Member Kelly Marlow, including an email she sent to the school system’s auditor.
The email was about the 2010-11 fiscal year and was written to give the auditors authorization to speak to a private citizen, Robert Trim, Read said.
Marlow did not address the allegations during the meeting, which was mostly conducted with only emergency lighting after power was lost because of storms. On Friday, she issued a statement denying any wrongdoing and saying she solicited the help of a group of community members to assist her in looking into the school system’s finances.
At the school board meeting, Read said that earlier Thursday she was present during a conversation between the auditor Adam Fraley from Maulden and Jenkins, Assistant Superintendent for Financial Management Candler Howell and the Supervisor of Strategic Planning Mike McGowan.
“(Fraley) had received an email from a Robert Trim asking questions about the above-mentioned audit. He said no phone number was given and he didn’t know who this Robert Trim was, so he sent an email asking for a phone number,” Read said. “When he received (the phone number) he called Mr. Trim, when Mr. Trim started asking questions he realized that he was not a representative or an employee of the school district.”
Read said Fraley told Trim he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the client, which is the school board.
“The auditor then received an email from school board member Kelly Marlow, giving him the authorization to speak with Mr. Trim on behalf of the school district,” Read said.
In response to questions Friday, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo said “the majority of the board did not authorize the action and such action intrudes into day-to-day operations.”
“Board policy makes clear that school board members are to conduct business by the will of the majority of the board, not by the will of individual board members,” Petruzielo said. “The authority rests with the board as a whole, not with individual board members. Board members are not to take any private action that would compromise the board or the school district. According to board policy, the board is to honor the chain of command, delegate executive powers to the superintendent and not undermine the superintendent’s authority or intrude into day-to-day operations.”
Marlow sent out a press release Friday that claims Read’s accusations were false. Marlow said in her press release that she formed “a small working group of local citizens and business leaders to supplement her research and assist her in understanding the financial state of the school system.”
“Mr. Trim was invited to become a member of the working group because of his 15 years of policy experience at the state and local levels,” the press release read. “Ms. Marlow had asked Mr. Trim, on behalf of the working group, to help facilitate a conversation with the independent audit company, Mauldin and Jenkins.”
Marlow wrote that at Fraley’s request, she “generated an email asking him to converse with Mr. Trim on her behalf.”
The email obtained by the Cherokee Tribune from the Cherokee County School District read, “For the purposes of posing these questions in the proper terms, I have authorized Robert Trim to speak with you.”
Petruzielo said that to the district’s knowledge, Fraley did not ask Marlow to send an email giving Trim authorization. Petruzielo said even if the auditor had asked Marlow to send an email authorization, the action is still against school board policy.
“During a meeting with school district staff and the board chair on Thursday, the auditor said when contacted by Mr. Trim, he informed Mr. Trim he would not speak with him about the audit as he was not the firm’s client. Ms. Marlow then sent her email to the auditor stating she authorized the auditor to speak with Mr. Trim, which prompted the auditor to notify CCSD’s assistant superintendent for financial management,” Petruzielo said.
Petruzielo said that accreditation risk is ultimately for the accreditation agency to determine, “but school systems, including the Cherokee County School District 15 years ago, have been placed on accreditation probation due to board members intruding into day-to-day operations.”
Marlow has been asked multiple times by Petruzielo and by his staff on his behalf to follow the chain of command. Emails obtained from the CCSD showed three instances where the superintendent asked spokesperson Barbara Jacoby to advise Marlow to follow the chain of command.
“Ms. Marlow has been advised by myself and by my staff on my behalf repeatedly since taking office about intruding into day-to-day operations,” Petruzielo said.
In April, Marlow sent an email to Jacoby stating that she would follow up with Kennesaw State University colleagues to develop a partnership opportunity.
In an email sent April 3 from Jacoby to Marlow, Jacoby wrote, “I ask again that you please respect the partnership development process is part of day-to-day operations that are the responsibilities of the superintendent and his staff (Policies BBD, BH).”
Also in April, Marlow was sent a second email from Jacoby.
“The superintendent asks you, again, to please respect the chain of command and allow him to direct his staff so they can follow procedures regarding day-to-day operations, such as requests for public information.”
The email asked that if Marlow was asked questions to which she did not know the answer, to send those questions to the superintendent or director of public information, communications and partnerships, Jacoby said.
“Policy (ABB) makes clear that the board is to support the superintendent in his duties, and that it’s the majority vote of the board, not the will of individual school board members, that determines how business is conducted.”
The CCSD received a complaint regarding Marlow, claiming that she had questioned a district employee June 4 about Cherokee County Special Olympics. On June 5, Jacoby sent an email to Marlow about the event.
“Allegations of this type of action by school board members are very concerning. Such behavior creates an atmosphere of intimidation for employees, violates board policy and jeopardizes accreditation,” the email read. “On behalf of the superintendent, you are again requested to refrain from questioning CCSD employees directly; please direct your questions to the superintendent or to me.”
In Marlow’s press release, she also stated that her questions have gone unanswered.
“This group is necessary due to the fact that the professional staff has been unresponsive, insubordinate and obstructive in answering Ms. Marlow’s repeated inquiries regarding system finances, specifically the timing of the board’s receipt of the final audit and the millions of dollars in adjustments that were requires to correct bookkeeping errors,” Marlow’s press release read.
Multiple emails obtained from the CCSD were sent back and forth between Marlow and Jacoby regarding Marlow’s questions about the audit. For each question posed, Jacoby or the superintendent responded.
Petruzielo said in an email, “The Superintendent and staff have answered every question that Ms. Marlow has submitted regarding the 2010-11 audit. The Cherokee Tribune has been provided with copies of all of these emails and attachments.”
Read said the auditor was unable to attend the Thursday night meeting, but was willing to come to a future meeting to answer questions Marlow or other board members may have about the audit.