Columbus City Schools Book Purchases Come Under Fire For Alleged Conflict Of Interest
At Marion Franklin High School, questions are not coming from school books but instead are about school books.
Some critics worry that favoritism may have influenced the school’s decision to purchase several thousands of dollars worth of books from a company with a tie to one of the district’s elected leaders.
“So we need to understand there is a conflict of interest her,” said Catherine Turcer with the watchdog group Common Cause.
10 Investigates reported in December that Visionary Leaders Institute, a company owned by Board of Education member Hanifah Kambon’s husband, Ako, received a number of contracts from the district while Kambon was in power.
The contracts may have violated the law that the Ohio Ethics Commission said, “Prohibits a member of the board of education from having a direct or indirect interest in any contract of the board.”
10 Investigates now has uncovered a purchase order for $4,500 to purchase books from Visionary Leaders Institute for Marion Franklin High School.
The purchase of the books – 25 “Black Male Achievement Sets,” 72 “High School Transition Sets” and 72 “High School Plan for Students with College-Bound Dreams, Facilitator Guides” – was authorized by the school principal.
District records show Visionary Leaders charged the district $471 for shipping, even though the school, according to the district purchase order, was located 4.3 miles from the Kambons’ home.
According to the purchase order, the order for the books came in about a year after Ako told 10 Investigates that he cut off business with the district because someone raised concerns about a potential conflict of interest.
The contract also came after the letter from a district’s attorney that suggested that such contracts could conflict with state law, 10 Investigates reported.
Officials at Marion Franklin would not immediately answer for 10 Investigates which students got the books, which teacher requested the books and why the books are no longer around.
10 Investigates went to Ako Kambon’s office to get details.
An aide said that he was not available until the end of the month.
Ako Kambon previously told 10TV Investigates that he believes he resold books that he bought from Georgia-based education consultant Mychal Wynn, whose company declined to comment.
Hanifah Kambon, who taught at Marion Franklin before she retired, would not talk on camera with 10 Investigates.
She said via email that the school requested the books to support one of her husband’s previous presentations at the school.
A spokesman with the district said that the books were no longer at the school because they were distributed to students.
Spokesman Jeff Warner said that the district did nothing wrong “because the purchase was under $5,000.”
Turcer said that the district needs to do more explaining.
“Clearly, we need a good investigation,” Turcer said. “We know there’s a conflict of interest. We know the books are gone. What’s going on here?”
Kambon said all of the deals 10 Investigates are talking about were OK, because she was told in a district letter that board approval is not required for contracts less than $5,000.
However, ethics experts 10 Investigates talked to said it doesn't matter who approved the contracts.
10 Investigates also found another purchase order approved for $6,000 for Kambon’s services.
The district has said Kambon did not vote on it, but can't explain how it was approved without a vote of the board.
10 Investigates has found no evidence to support this assertion.
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