Conduct Questioned After Columbus School Board Member’s Husband Receives Payment From District


UPDATED: Thursday December 20, 2012 5:37 PM

10 Investigates uncovered questions surrounding un-bid contracts flowing into a Columbus City Schools board member’s husband’s business.

School board member Hanifah Kambon sits on the district's audit and accountability committee --- a committee designed to make sure the district does business by the rules. 

10 Investigates found that since Kambon has been in power, her husband's consulting company, Visionary Leaders Institute, has been getting business from the district.

Ako Kambon, Hanifah Kambon’s husband, owns the education consulting company and serves as its president.

The relationship could be a potential violation of the law, because of where Visionary Leaders has done business.

10 Investigates uncovered a series of contracts between the Columbus City School District and Visionary Leaders Institute for work at Oakmont Elementary School, Buckeye Middle School and Marion Franklin High School.

Some work was conducted prior to Hanifah Kambon being selected for the board, but critics said that they are concerned about the business that has been conducted since she joined the Board of Education.

Purchase orders obtained by 10 Investigates showed that the district approved the contracts well after Hanifah Kambon took office in January 2010.

The district approved one purchase order for $5,000 for a Visionary Leaders "workshop" and "presentation” at Oakmont Elementary in April 2010.

The district approved a purchase order at Buckeye Middle School for $750 in May 2011. In November of 2010, the district approved three professional development workshops at Marion Franklin High School for $6,000.

10 Investigates found no evidence that Kambon approved the contracts herself or that the board voted on them.

One critic said that she was uncomfortable with the relationship. 

“It is a conflict of interest,” said Catherine Turcer said of the watchdog group Common Cause.

Turcer said that the relationship raises red flags because the money from the district is going right back into the Kambon household.

“It's a big deal because we don't want those people who make public policy to be financially benefiting  or put in a position where they could financially benefit,” Turcer said.

10 Investigates found a state law that seems to say the same thing.
 
According to an Ohio Ethics Commission opinion, the law, "prohibits a member of a board of education from having a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any contract of the board...a school board member may be considered to have an indirect interest...where her spouse has an interest in a contract entered into by the board."

Hanifah Kambon declined to answer 10 Investigates’ question on camera but did agree to a phone interview.

“We still are operating under legal guidelines,” she said. “The company did nothing illegal even with me sitting on the board.”

Kambon says she is on safe ground because Ako runs Visionary Leaders without her involvement.

But 10 Investigates found Hanifah Kambon posed for a picture for The Columbus Dispatch  inside the Visionary Leaders Institute as she was running for office.

State records show that she and Ako also have a connection to a non-profit education company listed at their home address called the Visionary Foundation. 

For his part, Ako says he stopped doing business with the district to avoid the appearance of impropriety after a school administrator complained of a conflict of interest.

After the issue came up, Hanifah Kambon sent a letter in May 2010 to the district's lawyer asking for clarification. In response, the district did not directly say whether there was a conflict.

However, it mentioned that law that says "no board member shall" have a direct or indirect interest in a contract. Hanifah  Kambon said that she told her husband to stop.

“Once I said that to my husband, I expected him to respect my request along with the response from the school district legal department,” Hanifah Kambon said.

But district records show Visionary Leaders did not stop, records show deals with two schools came later in 2011.

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