LACEY – Board of Education members swore in those who won election to new terms on the panel, selected a new board president and vice president and got a review on ethics during a recent virtually held reorganization meeting.
Board Secretary Patrick De George opened the meeting and bestowed the oath of office on the newly elected board member Kim Klaus and incumbent Frank Palino.
De George then called for nominations for the position of board president noting that all that was needed was a nomination and that no second was required.
Palino nominated Donna McAvoy for president of the board. No one else was nominated and Board member Regina Discenza made the motion to close nominations.
The roll call vote included Discenza’s abstention. Klaus also abstained.
Board member Linda Downing who has served the longest on the board and held the position of Board President last year said, “I’m going to vote yes. Mrs. McAvoy had a discussion and we talked over some concerns but I’m going to vote yes.”
McAvoy, Palino, Harold “Skip” Peters and Edward Scanlon also voted yes.
McAvoy then took the reins to run the rest of the meeting which moved on to the selection of a board vice president. She nominated Palino. No other nominations were made.
Discenza and Klaus again abstained while Downing, McAvoy, Palino, Peters and Scanlon each voted in the affirmative.
Board Attorney Sanmathi Dev conducted a presentation of the annual school board ethics training. She provided a PowerPoint presentation during the meeting which focused on the Ethics Act and the Code of Ethics.
“This is what governs all the ethics for board members as well as school officials. It basically encompasses anybody who is an employee of the school district. The School Ethics Commission is the body which is responsible for administering and making sure that the Code of Ethics and Ethics Act are followed. It is an arm of the state governed through the Department of Education and a nine-member body.”
Dev said the Commission offers advisory opinions to any complaints if a member of the public or any individual believes there is a violation of the School Code of Ethics or Ethics Act. They can file that to the entity that is required to retain disclosure statements that must be filed each year. They enforce the Code of Ethics and the Ethics Act.
The attorney wanted Board members to be aware of potential conflict of interest issues that sometimes come up and quoted a statute that “basically says that any current Board of Education member who has any interests or claims directly or indirectly with the board that in the grand scheme of things could look like if they were an employee of the district you could not be on the Board of Education.”
She said if a board member owned a company “or have an interest in a company that has a contract with the board you can not be a member of the board at the same time. I wanted you to be aware of it because while it is not officially part of the Ethics Act or Code of Ethics it is something you have to be cognizant about.”
Dev said some of the key points of the Code of Ethics and Ethics Act include “you as a board member are always responsible to identify a conflict or potential conflict. You always have the duty to avoid them. You must always be careful of what you say or what you write and that includes e-mails anything you put on social media and text messages and other electronic communication.”
“In the age of COVID right now, a lot of communication is not traditionally by telephone or in person and we are communicating more through electronic means but you want to be mindful of what you are doing electronically and on social media platforms,” Dev added.
She also warned the Board that “you could be recorded at any time. As a Board member and as a member of the community who holds this office you could be recorded at any time and when in doubt if you feel that there could be a conflict – don’t do it and ask for a legal opinion.”
Dev said one of her responsibilities as the Board’s attorney is “to help you navigate some of these issues. You can also write to the School Ethics Commission these are the certain facts, is this a potential violation or can I do x, y or z.”
The Board voted to approve the code of ethics and to hold its meetings on the on the third Thursday of the month which is a change from the prior third Monday of the month.
Members also voted to dissolve the Facilities Committee as it was found to be redundant to what was discussed within the Finance Committee. An ad hoc committee to address redistricting within the school system is also being formed.