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Board filing was handled properly

January 05, 2008|By Jacqueline Fischer

On Dec. 11, at a Washington County Board of Education public business meeting, board member Bernadette Wagner stated during the board members' comments agenda item that she was concerned that there might be a possible conflict of interest with one of the candidates for the board.

She identified that candidate by mentioning an article about the candidate in The (Dec. 10) Herald Mail, which stated that this candidate "was under contract with the BOE." Wagner went on to say that when the candidate filed for the election, she signed one disclosure statement with the election office certifying that she was subject to the authority of the BOE and one disclosure statement with the BOE affirming that she was not engaged financially or otherwise with the board of education.

Wagner went on to request a legal opinion "as to whether it is necessary for this candidate to either withdraw her candidacy or forfeit her contract with WCPS."

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I, Jacqueline Fischer, am the candidate to whom Wagner was referring, and based on facts that Wagner did not mention, as well as past practices, I firmly believe that I committed no ethical violations and that I did not file for election with a conflict of interest. However, just so there would be no question as to my integrity, on Dec. 13, I resigned my contractual position as proofreader with the school system as well as my volunteer position on the BOE's Facilities Enrollment Advisory Committee. On Dec. 14, I filed new disclosure statements with the school system and the board of elections.

When Wagner spoke at the Dec. 11 board meeting, she failed to state that the disclosure form for the board of elections gives a candidate a choice of indicating that he or she is or is not subject to the authority of the Washington County Board of Education. Nor did she state that the form goes on to say, "I understand that, if I have certified affirmatively and I am elected, the governor will not issue my commission of election until I offer proof that I am no longer subject to the authority of the county board of education."

The disclosure form required by the board of education does not give a candidate an option; it simply has the candidate swear that he or she is not financially or otherwise engaged with the board of education.

When I took this form to the BOE, I pointed out to human resources department personnel that I could not sign the form because I had a contract with the school system as a proofreader. I was advised that my candidacy would not be valid if I did not sign the form. Together we decided that I would need to sign the form, but that I would attach a note indicating that I would resign from that position if elected.

I did so, and the human resources employee stamped both the form and my note and gave me copies to file with the election board. However, during her comments, Wagner never mentioned the note that was attached to the BOE disclosure form.

She also did not mention that my contract with the school system was scheduled to run out in July, 2008, four months before the general election.

I was and am confident that this procedure satisfied all legal obligations because I had followed basically the same procedures when I successfully ran for the BOE in 2002. Between being elected in November 2002 and being sworn in, in December 2002, I resigned from the contractual position I had with the school system at that time as a substitute teacher. No one, either prior to or after that election, questioned whether there was any conflict of interest on my part.

In conclusion, since the statements made by Wagner were misleading and potentially harmful to my candidacy, I decided it was necessary to correct any misunderstandings on the part of the public that may have been created by her statements by writing this letter to the editor.

Jacqueline Fischer is a candidate for the Washington County Board of Education.

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