Former Fremont Street Experience executive named to school board

The Clark County School Board appointed businessman John Cole to fill the vacancy created by the departure of Terri Janison.

In making their appointment Thursday, trustees pointed to Cole’s business acumen, saying it would help the school district navigate an anticipated funding shortfall of $180 million for next year.

“If we want our desires for our students to be more than wishful thinking, then our handle on our resources has to be absolutely secure,” said Trustee Erin Cranor.

Cole, 51, is former chief operating officer and chief financial officer of the Fremont Street Experience and chief financial officer of Walker Furniture. He has a master’s in business administration from Eastern Illinois University and currently does business consulting.

During the discussions with the board, Cole was the only applicant to offer a source of new revenue for public education: a tax of Internet gambling winnings.

Cole said he wrote in December to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who has proposed legislation to allow Internet gambling, and offered the senator a plan on how to tax Internet winnings for education. Under his proposal, the taxes would benefit public education in both the home state of the Internet gambler and the state where the gaming company is based.

“Many (gaming companies) are located in Nevada, but not all of them,” Cole said. The revenue “would also depend on how many gaming licenses are allowed under the bill.”

He also acknowledged that it might be a year or two before the bill is passed by Congress, which will have control over how the enterprise is taxed.

Cole got a taste of working on district issues when Janison appointed him to the Bond Oversight Committee in 2009. Now Cole will have to appoint his replacement on the committee since he can’t serve on it and the School Board.

He was selected as one of three finalists after the board heard three-minute presentations from 12 of the 13 applicants who came to the meeting. The other finalists were Suzanne Lee, president of Nevada Women’s Philanthropy, and Jose Melendrez, assistant vice president for diversity and inclusion at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Cole was selected by a 4-2 vote of the board. Trustee Chris Garvey supported Lee, and trustee Linda Young supported Melendrez, because the board does not have any Hispanic members. Young, who is black and the only minority on the board, said she wanted to be “sensitive to diversity, particularly with our Latino community.”

Board President Carolyn Edwards said she preferred Cole because he had fewer conflicts of interests. She noted that the district has received donations from Lee’s charitable organization and contended that Melendrez’s career in higher education could put him in conflict with a role as an advocate for K-12 education.

After the vote, Cole was quickly sworn into office. Cole, who served in the Marines and is a Chicago Bears fan, is the only man on the board.

As the new representative for District E in northwestern Clark County, Cole replaces Janison, who resigned in December to become the Southern Nevada community relations director for Gov. Brian Sandoval.

He will complete the two years remaining in Janison’s term and said he plans to run for the seat in 2012.

A native of Chicago, he moved to Las Vegas in 2002. He and his wife, Ellen, have two sons, T.J., who is 20 and a sophomore at the University of Arizona, and Brian, 18, who is a senior at Palo Verde High School.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@review journal.com or 702-799-2922.

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