BOE Ethics Panel Addresses Potential Conflict of Interest
The following release has been authorized to be sent by the Allegany County Board of Education.
The Board of Education of Allegany County recognizes that a system of representative government is dependent in part upon people maintaining the highest trust in their public officials and the right to be assured that public officials act with impartiality and exercise independent judgment. In furtherance of that goal, the Board of Education appoints individuals to serve on an Ethics Panel that acts independently of the Board and has among its duties the responsibility of providing advisory opinions on issues encompassed by the Board’s Ethics Policy, including advice regarding conflicts of interest.
A question about a possible conflict of interest arose because a candidate for a seat on the Board of Education is currently a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought against the Board of Education, the Superintendent of Schools, and other named staff members. It seemed prudent to seek the Ethics Panel’s advice regarding what impact, if any, would there be on the Board’s ability to function if an individual in a private lawsuit against the Board were elected.
The Ethics Panel’s advisory opinion stated that in order to avoid conflict of interest, the individual should recuse himself or herself from Board discussions and decisions regarding:
- Reappointment of the Superintendent
- The Superintendent’s employment contract
- The salary, raises, or other financial issues directly related to the Superintendent or to the other individuals named as defendants in the lawsuit
- Any personnel issue related to any of the individuals named in the lawsuit
- Any matters related to his/her lawsuit against the Board and other defendants named in the lawsuit
- Any matter where the individual would stand to gain financially or otherwise by the outcome of the litigation
The Panel advised further that an individual in litigation against the Board and/or Board employees should not be precluded from budgetary or financial issues that do not involve the conflicts of interest listed above, nor should such a person be precluded from any other matters involving school system personnel, unless the individual believes he or she cannot be impartial or exercise independent judgment because a personnel matter results from a recommendation of the Superintendent, in which case he or she should consider recusing oneself.
The Board’s Ethics Policy is applicable to Board members and school system personnel and, therefore, has no impact on any individual as a candidate for the Board. The advice would have effect only to establish necessary parameters for the member’s role on the BOE from the outset of his or her term of office, if elected. If the person is not elected, the question of conflict of interest would be moot.
Although the Ethics Panel, in accordance with the Code of Ethics (A.9.b), keeps its discussions regarding advisory opinions confidential, the Panel advised the Board of Education that it found no language that requires the Board to maintain confidentiality. It said that any dissemination of Panel opinions by the BOE would be a BOE decision based on the principles of impartiality and independent judgment that motivated adoption of the Board’s Code of Ethics.
The Board of Education’s ethics policy mirrors the State ethics law. The purpose of the Code of Ethics and advisory opinions of the Ethics Panel is to ensure the integrity of the Board’s voting process, assuring the public that judgments are not taken to further a self-interest, but are taken in the best interest of the pubic.
Members of the Allegany County Board of Education Ethics Panel can be found by visiting the school system’s website at www.acpsmd.org/Page/127.