School board approves ethics policy

April 07, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Washington County Public Schools' new ethics policy changes local guidelines for accepting gifts, avoiding conflicts of interests and other topics.

The Washington County Board of Education gave final approval to the new policy Tuesday. It will go into effect unless the State Ethics Commission wants changes.

A provision on outside employment was part of the draft policy the board preliminarily approved last month, but was removed Tuesday at the request of board member Justin M. Hartings.

Hartings said the school system, rather than a volunteer ethics panel, should decide if an employee's outside work interferes with his or her school district job.


Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan agreed, arguing that the school system shouldn't impinge on employees' rights to have other jobs.

The board voted 6-1 to remove that section. Only board member Donna Brightman voted no.

In conjunction with the new policy, the board created a five-member panel that will privately review ethics complaints.

The new ethics policy amends the school district's existing ethics regulations.

Over the last few months, the district's Policy Committee considered several changes, some of which were stricken when the State Ethics Commission said it wouldn't accept them.

The ceiling on gifts that board members and district employees could accept from certain people initially was raised to $100 from $25, then was dropped back to $25 and the phrase "during a calendar year" was inserted.

A prohibition on soliciting gifts from people under the authority of the school system or people negotiating a contract with the school system was added, unless the ethics panel approves the gift.

The board unanimously approved the new policy.

Anthony J. Trotta, the school system's chief legal counsel, said the State Ethics Commission has 60 days to act on the changes. If it takes no action, the changes take effect automatically, he said.

Board President Wayne D. Ridenour said the policy has a weakness: It doesn't address parents making decisions about schools their children attend.

"When it comes to our kids, you know, we're pit bulls," he said.

Members of ethics panel

Members of the Washington County Public Schools ethics advisory panel and their terms (which are staggered and start this month)

o D. Bruce Poole (one year)

o Dr. George Newman II (two years)

o Gregory Snook (three years)

o John Schnebly (four years)

o Don Stevenson (five years)

o Anthony J. Trotta, the school system's chief legal counsel, will work with the panel.

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