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Proposed Washington County schools ethics policy revisions criticized

July 16, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Washington County Board of Education Member Wayne D. Ridenour questioned Tuesday why the school board needs such a tightened ethics policy.

"Is there something going on that would require (additional) language?" he asked.

The school board has been discussing changes to its ethics policy since last week. Those changes were criticized during a meeting Tuesday, and the full board is expected to vote on a draft of the altered policy Aug. 19.

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.

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Ridenour said Tuesday that the public is aware that his wife and sister are Washington County Public Schools teachers.

"I still think that I have a strong enough ethical belief and moral compass to know when I should not be involved in negotiations or personnel actions," he said.

Ridenour questioned why other relationships were not being scrutinized, like a family friend or cousin.

Board Vice President Donna Brightman, who is a member of the committee that drafted the revised policy, said the proposed document works to ensure that the public is informed about the type of relationships that could become conflicts of interest.

Board members Paul W. Bailey and William H. Staley also have family members working for the school system.

"What is wrong with just disclosing the relationship?" Brightman asked.

Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan criticized a portion of the policy that focused on school system employees who seek outside employment.

The policy states that employees may "engage in other employment provided work performance is not compromised ...."

Morgan said many teachers have to have one or more part-time jobs to supplement their income. She said the language in the proposed policy was subjective.

"Who decides that (work performance has been compromised)?" Morgan asked. "I think it's too subjective. It violates people's rights. I think it's un-American. I don't think we should be telling people that they can and can't work."

Morgan said the policy, which she called "vague," could threaten employees' jobs if it is enforced subjectively.

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