On Dec. 15, 2014 the commissioner of education approved the School Ethics Commission’s recommendation of censure of a local school board member for improperly voting on a personnel matter.

In the matter (SEC decision 487), the district superintendent filed an ethics complaint against the board member because she publicly criticized the hiring process and, in doing so, arguably criticized the superintendent’s personnel recommendations.

The decision focused on the fact that the hiring recommendation involved employees who had previously been the focus of the board member’s public criticism. The prior public comments resulted in an ethics charge against that same board member and concluded in a settlement agreement that contained a private reprimand against the board member.

The commissioner determined that the public could reasonably perceive that, because the board member’s criticism involved the same employees in both instances, the board member used her public position for personal reasons. The commissioner concluded that the prior settlement agreement was sufficient notice to the board member of her conflict in future employment actions involving these employees.

The School Ethics Commission had found that the board member sought to exert influence over district hiring practices by implying that the director of buildings and grounds should invite a particular applicant to an interview for an open custodial position. The board member asserted that she merely inquired into the status of the interviews on behalf of a constituent. Nevertheless, the commission determined that the director felt pressured to offer the interview based on the board member’s inquiry. While it was clear that the board member never requested that the applicant be interviewed, the director inferred no other purpose for the inquiry. The School Ethics Commission determined that the board member attempted to use her office to secure unwarranted privileges for another in violation of the School Ethics Act.

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