Washington County school board considers stricter ethics policy

Proposed changes address possible conflicts of interest where board member's relatives are concerned

Proposed changes address possible conflicts of interest where board member's relatives are concerned

July 09, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Board of Education is considering tightening its ethics policy.

Possible changes were discussed during a committee meeting Tuesday and will come before the full board July 15.

Board President Roxanne R. Ober said the policy has not been updated since 1997. Proposed changes address possible conflicts of interest for a school board member whose spouse, parent, child or sibling could benefit financially from a school board decision.

The draft of the policy allows school board members to participate in collective bargaining matters if the board member's spouse, parent, child or sibling is affected, as long as the board member discloses that information. The board member then has the option of recusing himself or herself from participating.

"Then, I guess it's up to the public whether they made a good decision to recuse or not to recuse," Board Vice President Donna Brightman said.


She said Tuesday that it is important for a board member to disclose whether his or her family members might gain financially from a decision the school board makes.

"As a public official, you want to do everything possible to be transparent," she said. "It's disclosure. A lot of people don't understand the relationships that exist."

Three current school board members have spouses, siblings or children working for Washington County Public Schools: Wayne D. Ridenour, William H. Staley and Paul W. Bailey.

"This policy may not be construed to permit a board member to participate in a decision to hire, transfer, promote, sever employment or otherwise take individual personnel action regarding the board member's spouse, parent, child, brother or sister whether or not the family member resides in the board member's immediate household," the draft of the policy states.

Ridenour, who attended Tuesday's committee meeting, said he has questions about the proposed policy changes. He said if the board is going to specify relationships, like spouse or sibling, there should be a discussion about other relationships.

"Where do you draw the line?" he asked. "What if it's your best friend's child, or spouse, who is (applying for a job)?"

Ridenour said board members have been ethical without the help of a revised ethics policy, and he believes they can continue to do so.

"I think the public expects us to act in an ethical manner," he said.

Ober said the proposed policy changes work to avoid a conflict of interest for board members and also the appearance of a conflict of interest. She said officials examined policies from other school districts, which all included more conservative language regarding the potential for financial gain for a school board member from a school board decision.

Brightman said the disclosure of those relationships is also important for the public to understand because of what the school board discusses in private. She said the board discusses confidential matters, sometimes about salary increases or bargaining strategies with the teachers union and other groups.

Brightman said there is the potential that those closed-door discussions could get back to a board member's family member or spouse. The public should be aware of that possibility, she said.

"There is the potential, which is why the disclosure is important," Brightman said. "So, the public understands that potential."

If you go

What: Washington County Board of Education meeting where possible changes to the board's ethics policy will be discussed

When: July 15, 1 p.m.

Where: Washington County Public Schools central office, 820 Commonwealth Ave., Hagerstown

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