Local News

School board hopefuls respond to question about ethics and conflict of interest

By From page A1 | April 29, 2014

The eight candidates seeking an interim appointment to the Davis school board have weighed in on the question of how they would respond to a violation of ethics. The question is particularly timely, given the controversy earlier this spring over former trustee Nancy Peterson’s role in a complaint against the Davis High School volleyball coach.

Peterson resigned from the school board in March, creating the vacancy. The appointee will serve until November, at which time voters will fill the seat in a special election.

The board will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 1, in the Community Chambers at Davis City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd., to narrow the field from eight to three. A selection will be made at a special meeting May 8.

Among the questions on the school district’s application for appointment was this: “A violation of ethics occurs when a board member does not clearly separate personal and district interests and govern on behalf of the district. How would you respond when confronted with this conflict yourself?”

Here are their statements, in reverse alphabetical order:

Madhavi Sunder: “I would disclose the conflict and recuse myself.”

Charles Rairdan: “Effective governance requires a high level of integrity both from individual board members and the body as a whole. In order to maintain the public trust and lend credibility to board proceedings, it is incumbent upon individual trustees to exercise a high level of discretion regarding conflicts of interest. Even the appearance of impropriety can do as much damage as actual indiscretions.

“In my view, a board member should actively avoid actual or perceived conflicts of interest and remain vigilant of emerging situations where it may be difficult to later remove themselves from those circumstances or mitigate the resulting perceptions of bias or undue influence.

“In cases where a clear conflict of interest exists, a board member should immediately recuse themselves and inform fellow board members as to the reasons why. In instances where the potential for a conflict is not clear, the affected board member should seek guidance from qualified counsel or an ethics adviser and keep the board apprised of a potential conflict in a timely manner.”

Robert Poppenga: “In light of recent district experiences, conflicts of interest and ethical behavior concerns have received significant attention by many in the community. It will be incumbent on new board members to always keep potential conflicts of interest in mind and to adhere to the highest ethical standards.

“My search of the district website under board policies was surprisingly unproductive with regard to what constitutes ethical/unethical behavior or a conflict of interest. The school board should adopt a statement of ethics similar to one provided by the Texas Association of School Boards or require a regular review of the statement.

“The question as to whether or not a board member should be involved in decisions regarding district programs in which their own children participate or have participated has been raised by some. I believe that it would be incredibly difficult to conduct district business if an individual member was obligated to recuse themselves in such situations.

“However, board members should never become involved in resolving a dispute/complaint involving their own children and district personnel; that is a matter left to district administration, policies and procedures. If there is any doubt regarding a specific situation, board members should seek the opinions of their trusted colleagues and/or legal experts and take a conservative route (recuse oneself it there in any potential for a conflict).

“One guiding principle that I would follow would be a student-centered one (see Texas Association of School Boards policy); actions should be guided by what is best for all students of the district.”

B.J. Kline: “First and foremost, a board member must communicate with the superintendent. If there is even a hint of a potential conflict of interest, a board member must recuse himself/herself from any action surrounding a particular issue.”

Jose Granda: “This is a simple question in my opinion. When a conflict of interest occurs, the board member must inform the other board members of that, and excuse himself/herself from voting or participating on an issue that has personal interest mixed with district interests.”

Alan Fernandes: “I do not currently have a conflict of interest that would prevent me from serving as a trustee. However, as a lawyer with a deep understanding of conflict-of-interest law, I am not only committed to following the law, but I will hold myself to a higher standard that requires that I avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

“Should a conflict or potential conflict arise, I will publicly identify such conflict and remove myself not only from the decision-making process but also from the preliminary discussion as well. This will ensure that the board’s decisions are fair and unbiased, and will enable the board and district staff to focus clearly on the problem at hand and to reach a decision that is in the best interest of the district and the children we serve.”

Barbara Archer: “When you are elected (to the school board), you must put personal concerns aside and make decisions that are best for the district as a whole. It isn’t right or prudent to bring your personal agendas into this arena. If a conflict ever came up for me, I would seek immediate assistance from the superintendent to manage it appropriately and discuss if I needed to recuse myself from voting on an issue.

“I am well aware that the responsibilities that come with elective office require that you leave your personal issues aside in public and deal with them in a private matter.”

Tom Adams: “The first question is whether it is a violation of the law. Any legal violations need to be halted immediately and any potentially legal violations must be avoided with the investigation turned over to the appropriate authorities. As for a board member who cannot separate personal and district interests, that member should remove him/herself from the decision-making process.

“It would be best if board members took a look at the upcoming issues over the coming year and ask themselves if there are potential conflicting interests. It is best if board members have a discussion about any potential conflicts long before the issue reaches the board for formal action. Annual reminders of what are the ethics policies that apply to board members may also prevent potential disputes.

“In short, there should be clear policies; in the case that there is not, then the existing policy should be the basis. Ultimately, the decision needs to be rooted in what is best for the students and no student should be harmed.”

Jeff Hudson

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