Two members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education were found to have a conflict of interest regarding ongoing contract negotiations during Monday’s meeting.
Board members Sammy Crawford and Bill Holt have family members that are KPBSD employees who will be affected by the negotiations between the district and the unions that represent the district’s employees.
Board President Joe Arness submitted a recommendation to the board during the meeting asking that Crawford and Holt be allowed to help the district develop strategies for the ongoing negotiations, but the recommendation failed by a 5-1 vote.
“Given that they have disclosed a potential conflict, and given that they will not be casting any votes on the question prior to the final approval of the finished contract, it is my interpretation that they will be allowed to participate fully in the steps leading up to the deliberations regarding the final document when it is presented,” Arness wrote in his recommendation.
The board’s bylaws address conflict of interest in BB 9270. The policy says there is a conflict when a member is confronted with an issue where the member has a personal or financial interest.
Crawford’s son is a member of the classified bargaining unit, and Holt’s wife is a member of the certified bargaining unit.
Arness said that during a Jan. 9 meeting, board member Tim Navarre asked the board to receive a legal opinion about the issue. Arness said he received two opinions.
“One from the Borough attorney and one from Andy Stone in Anchorage,” Arness said. “Both agreed that in fact, it is a conflict of interest and it would be inappropriate for them to vote.”
Arness said the real question was that if the board is in executive session, there is no item on the table to vote on.
“That was the place where we got conflicting opinions from the attorneys,” Arness said. “So I read them both, I considered them and it was my belief that given the nature of what we’re doing, of the people that are involved, that we would produce a better product with their involvement.”
There was no doubt the members in question would lend their experience to the process, but some board members were concerned with how their actions would be perceived to the public to proceed without upholding the state law and board policy.
“I believe in this case, we have in policy where says ‘appearance of impropriety’ — when a situation may create the appearance of impropriety, even where state and federal laws do not require any action,” Board Vice President Liz Downing said.
Downing said Crawford and Holt followed board policy by disclosing their potential conflicts, and must abstain from voting.
“I think the best approach, especially in the terms of the fact that this situation can have legal implications and impact the finances of the district, I think that both Mrs. Crawford and Mr. Holt not be involved in any way, shape or form in the process and discussion,” Downing said.
Board member Sunni Hilts said the board will miss Crawford and Holt’s experience.
“These people are of value, of ethics, of wisdom,” Hilts said. “There was no question tonight about how they would use their knowledge and their contacts, there was absolutely no question.”
In other business:
- The board approved tentative teacher contracts for 2012-2013.
- The board approved a recommendation to accept the Alaska Statewide Mentor Project Urban Growth Opportunity Subaward.
- The board heard presentations from Kenai Central High School and the Connections Home School Program.
The next school board meeting is scheduled for April 2.