Cobb Board of Education members Kathleen Angelucci and Randy Scamihorn said Tuesday they want more information about fellow board member Scott Sweeney’s involvement with Promethean Ltd. and the company’s links to the school system’s foundation.
Sweeney, in the middle of a tough re-election bid against fellow Republican Kevin Nicholas, informed the school board late last year he had been hired by the digital whiteboard manufacturer as a consultant. Though Promethean markets its products directly to school systems, Sweeney said nothing about it, given two previous chances to disclose his interests.
Angelucci, the school board chair, said she would have acted differently.
“It’s concerning to me,” she said. “Mr. Sweeney has to make his own decisions. If he decided to do this and said, ‘I’m going to abstain or recuse myself if a vote comes up,’ for him that’s the ethical choice. For me, it’s a conflict of interest.”
Angelucci said it would be different if the district had nothing to do with the company.
“But we do, and I don’t know to what extent. I’d like to ask more questions to find out,” she said.
The two also took issue with Sweeney’s insistence that he will abstain from any votes pertaining to Promethean.
Angelucci said the role of a school board member is to vote.
“Our job is to vote,” she said. “When you start recusing yourself from votes, you know, we’re supposed to represent not just our post but the district as a whole and it affects the district.”
,b>Other Promethean links to CCSD
Promethean’s ties the Cobb County School District go deeper than Sweeney. The Cobb Schools Foundation, a fundraising group with an employee — its executive director — on the district’s payroll, has multiple ties to the company.
Jim Marshall, CEO of Promethean, is a member of the Cobb Schools Foundation board. Morten Brante, Promethean’s senior vice president of services for Promethean, is married to Sheri Brante, executive director of the foundation.
Sweeney said his first contact with the company was through Marshall.
Both Angelucci and Scamihorn said they had a lot of questions about the Cobb Schools Foundation after reading the MDJ’s initial story Sunday.
“We should know a lot more than we do,” Angelucci said.
Sheri Brante is paid $43,000 per year by the Cobb school district as a part-time employee. Overall, the district pays the Cobb Schools Foundation $136,000, according to Scamihorn, but the foundation only raises $150,000 to $175,000 for the district.
“It makes me uncomfortable,” Angelucci said. “Perception sometimes becomes reality.”
What’s more, Angelucci said she is a member of the Cobb Schools Foundation board, but had no idea until recently. She has never been invited to a meeting of the foundation’s board and never received copies of meeting minutes.
The group is chaired by John Crooks, a former Cobb school board member.
Scamihorn, last year’s school board chairman, said he doesn’t recall ever being invited to the foundation’s board meetings either, despite also sitting on the group’s board at the time.
Both said that in a month or two they will know a lot more about what’s going on.
“Our job is to find out what’s going on and ask the questions that need to be asked,” Angelucci said. “And we will.”
Asked directly if she would work for any vendor marketing a product to school systems while serving on the school board, Angelucci said, “No.”
Scamihorn was equally resolute.
“You have to be far enough ahead of that curve that you are above reproach,” he said.
Sweeney says contract is confidential
On Tuesday, the MDJ asked Sweeney if he would be willing to disclose his contract with Promethean in the interest of transparency.
“The contractor contract between Promethean and me is confidential and is stipulated as such within the contract,” he said in an emailed response. “The contract does not include any incentive and/or commission element.”
Sweeney attended the National School Boards Association Conference April 5 to 7 in New Orleans. But he said he went on behalf of Promethean, not the Cobb school board.
Sweeney said he was clear about his affiliations while visiting the crescent city.
“I did not register for the conference and I represented myself as working with Promethean during my meetings in New Orleans,” he said.
Sweeney is finishing up his first term representing Post 6, an east Cobb district including Walton and Wheeler high schools. His re-election bid will be decided May 20 during the Republican primary. The winner between Sweeney and Nicholas will represent the district from 2015 to 2018.
(Reprinted from the Marietta Daily Journal. Written by Haisten Willis, April 16, 2014. Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal – Chair Sweeney and Promethean link is conflict of interest with BoE)