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Board president defends charges in ethics complaint

April 01, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County Board of Education President Lori Stilley defended herself Wednesday against a complaint she said was filed with the West Virginia Ethics Commission alleging she used her public position for private gain.

The complaint, filed by John Prohaska, former human resources director for Jefferson County Schools, alleges Stilley relied on a county Board of Education employee to transport her children and to run personal errands for her, Stilley said.

The complaint said the errands were done at county expense, Stilley said.

"These alleged charges are serious, defaming and, most importantly, untrue," Stilley said during a news conference at the Board of Education office Wednesday afternoon.

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In the past, Stilley said Janet Harner, the executive secretary to Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols, transported her to various meetings, including those of the Jefferson County Commission, various city council and county planning commission meetings as well as to speaking engagements and other functions.

Stilley said Harner had to take Stilley to the meetings because she broke her leg in a skiing accident on Dec. 28, 2002. Stilley said her leg was placed in a device called a "halo and fixator" and she was unable to drive.

Stilley said that, during that time, Harner also brought materials to her house so she could work on school board issues.

Harner submitted expense vouchers totaling $240.90 for the trips, which Nichols approved, Stilley said.

By law, board members and school personnel are allowed to submit such travel expenses, Stilley said.

Prohaska, reached by telephone Wednesday, said it is not a sound practice.

Subordinates should not be asked to help board members with such activities, said Prohaska, who resigned Feb. 6 and now lives in Virginia.

Prohaska said Harner told him that some of the travel expenses for which she was reimbursed were for trips she made to transport Stilley's child to activities, including horseback riding and karate.

Prohaska said it is hard to believe some of the trips to transport Stilley's child were done after hours.

If Stilley's child left school around 3 p.m., "it's a little difficult to comprehend" that Harner did not have to pick up the child while she was working at the office, Prohaska said.

Central office employees leave work at about 4 p.m., Prohaska said.

"It smacks of a plantation mentality, and the plantation owner is Mrs. Stilley," Prohaska said.

Harner said Wednesday in a telephone interview that Prohaska's allegations were not accurate. Harner said she never submitted any travel expenses for reimbursement for trips to transport Stilley's child to after-school lessons.

In regards to Prohaska's comments about when Harner took Stilley's child to the lessons, Harner said Stilley's child did not leave school until about 3:50 p.m. Harner said someone would pick up Stilley's child at school and take her to the school board office to wait for her to get off work.

Harner said she would then take Stilley's child to lessons after work.

Nichols appeared with Stilley at the press conference and emphasized that the expenses for which Harner was reimbursed were related to allowing Stilley to continue her business as school board president.

Nichols said he believes the complaint is an intent to distract the attention of the community from the "real issues at hand," including the proposed $19 million bond issue that will be placed before voters in the May 11 primary election.

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