It’s all relative: Senate Bill, Ethics Opinion put the Kibosh on School District Nepotism

Earlier this month we did a series of posts on K-12 education, the last one disclosing a meeting Slabbed had with Bay-Waveland School Board Trustee Mike Bell. The meeting, which included local parent volunteer Cami Cornfoot and Lana Noonan, President of the Hancock County Alliance for Good GovernmentTM dealt with the hiring of a new Superintendent of Education and the optics involving the fact the new Superintendent’s Brother was the existing business manager of the school district.

We covered a lot of ground over the ensuing two plus hours of discussing the state of the school district. I reserved judgment as I was in it for the information and I wanted to hear the School Board’s side of things. Lana on the other hand was pretty staunch in holding her position that the resulting nepotism from the hire of Vikki Landry looked awful. Simply put, Lana held Trustee Bell’s feet to the fire as they would eventually nicely agree to disagree on the subject.

To kick start things we need to re-visit Cassandra Favre’s January 27, 2017 story, BWSD may need 2 assistant superintendents, which left her readers (myself included) with the distinct impression the School District’s Central office expanded by one Assistant Superintendent solely to ameliorate the problems created by hiring the sister of the business manager as the Superintendent. Trustee Bell took issue with that characterization saying the addition of the second Assistant Superintendent was a discreet event that was not done to solve the nepotism problem involving Landry but rather involved a more sweeping reorganization of the business office in a move that cut the amount of local funds spent on Administration.

First what I found strange was both the before and after job description matrices we were presented showed the business manager answering organizationally to one of the Assistant Superintendents, a setup I had never seen in my 20 plus years auditing and consulting with Mississippi K-12s. Every other school district that I have first hand knowledge had the School Business manager answering directly to the Superintendent which makes sense given the job responsibilities handled by the School Business Office. The “before reorganization chart” was thus strange for lack of a better term because the arrangement would have had the Business Manager answering to his sister when she was Assistant Superintendent. Turns out that was not the case but before I get to that let’s visit with Kate Royals at Mississippi Today:

A bill removing a provision in the law allowing school districts to hire relatives of the district’s superintendents and principals passed the Senate on Wednesday.

State law defines a relative as a spouse, child, sibling or parent. The bill would, however, put in place a process for spouses of superintendents to be hired.

This bill was sponsored by Sen. Grey Tollison at the request of the Mississippi Ethics Commission.

Now if one were to get the impression that the Bay-Waveland School Board leaped before looking and then engaged in some CYA by reorganizing the Central Office after creating an ethics conflict of interest, such would be a natural conclusion and one I think an accurate depiction of the events, especially after the Mississippi Ethics Commission released yesterday advisory opinion 17-004-E (click the picture below to obtain the 4 page PDF opinion):

MSEA_17_004
Source: Mississippi Ethics Commission http://www.ethics.state.ms.us/ethics/ethics.nsf/OpinionsByDocId/80E144FAB0B33891862580C20057F405/$file/17004.pdf

And the problem with the central office job description matrices we were given comes into sharper focus on page three of the opinion:

At present, the district employs the new Superintendent’s brother as a Licensed School Business Administrator, a position that has historically reported directly to the Superintendent. As Assistant Superintendent and Licensed School Business Administrator, the two avoided a conflict of interest by her not directly supervising him as it relates to financial matters in the district.

This much is clear, Cassandra Favre quoted School Board President Maurice Singleton as saying the Board could not agree on a pick for Superintendent out of the final four candidates, an assertion that Bell confirmed by telling Slabbed that three of the final candidates enjoyed the support of no more than one school board trustee with two trustees uncommitted to any of the final four superintendent candidates. Bell also strongly implied that the Board’s hand had been forced by events outside of their control and the best way to resolve the problems caused by those undisclosed events was by elevating Landry to the Superintendent’s position for 18 months.

The problem I see is solving one problem created another and now the Bay-Waveland School District’s business manager is evidently now time limited in his position per that ethics opinion.

As hard as a good superintendent is to find and hire, the BWSD will find that hiring a qualified, experienced business manager is about as hard a task.

File this one under the old Nowdy saying that in Mississippi, “if it weren’t for a conflict of interest some would have no interest at all.” The next school board meeting ought to be good.

14 thoughts on “It’s all relative: Senate Bill, Ethics Opinion put the Kibosh on School District Nepotism”

    1. Amen Ms Noonan. I guess we are fixing to see if Donald Trump meant what he said about draining the swamp. I have noticed that
      [email protected]$$-o has inserted himself in the Public eye for once. We will soon see what all of that means, and if, in fact, this President means what he says, or if he just says what he has to say to get what he wants.

      1. You know, Charlene, I really do not expect public officials (elected or appointed) especially these locals, to know everything to execute the duties of their offices. People make mistakes. They are not well versed in the law; most have little knowledge of it regarding their position of service to the taxpayers. That is why we pay for them to have lawyers to guide them, and keep them legal. The Bay St. Louis-Waveland School Board has been ruled against twice now in the last two years by the State Ethics Commission for things that they were cautioned not to do.
        In Feb. of 2015, I cautioned them against interviewing contractors in Executive Session. Contractors are not school personnel, and do not enjoy the privacy of Executive Session. The Bay St. Louis City Council had just been cited for the same thing by Ethics. What did they do? Proceeded at the “advice” of their lawyer, and did it!!
        I filed against them and won. Now, here they are with a clear cut nepotism situation. We cautioned them against it. What do they do? Devise some scheme to make it okay for the new Superintendent to supervise her brother. Ruled against by Ethics again!
        These are not “mistakes” in my opinion. They exhibit a contempt for the order of law and ethics. They originate with their attorney, and they sit there and act like sheeple, a herd mentality.
        As far as I am concerned as one taxpayer in this School District, they could all leave today. To go along with something like this leaves me void of any trust in any of them.
        What will their next deliberate “mistake” be??!!

        1. PS: For the sake of being accurate: One Trustee, Casey Favre, was the only nay vote for the promotion of the Business Manager’s sister to Superintendent.
          And, I am wondering how many hours the public has been charged for this bad legal advice, including travel to Jackson??!!

        2. You folks need to quit forcing these uneducated innocents into office. Anyway, seriously, if a person seeks out a job and purports to be competent to do that job, subsequent, post-screwup claims that they are not actually competent to do it should fall on deaf ears. Of course, fully competent people do make mistakes, but they not only understand that they made a mistake, they also – and this is key – have the ability and competence to understand HOW the mistake was made. No rational person would attempt to claim that they thought it was ok to rob a bank because a lawyer told them it was ok, nor would any rational person think it ok to use public funds to make their car payment, regardless of what a lawyer (or accountant) told them. Likewise, no competent public official would think nepotism is remotely acceptable and if they don’t know such things, they are not competent to be in such a position.

          As to Trump draining anything, I suspect you can “wait and see” in one hand and you-know-what in the other and “wait and see” which fills up first. Apparently, he and his close associates (such as, ahem, his son-in-law, daughter, etc.) either don’t know jack shit about the impropriety of nepotism or other clearly improper activity or much more likely (just like in your own little corner of the swamp) they absolutely know but just don’t give a damn.

  1. For sake of argument……especially in small towns…..it is OBVIOUS….the people in the local government in a small town are not going to be “Legal Eagles.” They rely on the “legal” counsel that is there to support them. In our current situation…….our local “counsel” he has been the “School Board Attorney” for 70000 years. That once worked for him….but apparently it is beginning to be apparent that he SUCKS!!! Isn’t it time to find someone who is more apt to guide our school board in the correct way? Artigues is a “local boy” who rakes in $30,000+ by giving bad advice! That’s been okay for the last 20+ years because he has never been questioned! Isn’t it time to start questioning where the board is getting their bad legal advice?

  2. That has been obvious for years. He has done many not so legal moves himself over the years with the School Board. Maybe the Board needs to look at his actions and consulting and consider his job to be available.

  3. As a former longtime BWSD employee, I can assure you that your tax dollars are being wasted at levels you can not even imagine. This move to have two assistant superintendents is just the latest in a decades long stretch of wasteful spending. Hancock County School District is about twice the size of BWSD and has only one assistant. Pass Christian, which is about the same size as BWSD has NO assistant superintendent. There is not, and never will be, a need for two assistant superintendents at BWSD.

  4. I was there last night and witnessed School Board Attorney, Ronnie Artigues and this other Attorney, Jim Keith sell their bill of goods to Maurice Singleton, Joan Thomas, Mark Kidd, and Mike Bell. The only one not drinking the Kool Aid is Casey Favre. It was truly pitiful to witness. As a citizen and School District TAXPAYER of Waveland, my opinion is we are represented by two empty chairs as of now.
    Two of my greatest concerns going forward:
    1. Now that this door is wide open thanks to these spineless wonders, we can, I assure you look for more of this. Just let them try to tell the next set of nepotists “no.”
    2. Anyone who will co-operate with a blatant violation of laws to get a job and a $23,000 raise is not who I want managing anything for me!
    3. And, last, but not least, WHY does the School Board attorney give a rats fanny who the Superintdndent and Business Manager are??!!
    Give that some serious thought!

  5. Hearing today that our School Board and attorney may be in way over their heads in an imminent situation. Oh, if all these legal fees could just be avoided and that money spent on the children.
    Fasten your seatbelts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Probably has to do with the reason Casey had to obstain from voting on a personel issue. He has an agenda of his own and it has nothing to do with what is right for kids!

      1. Probably has to do with the reason Casey had to obstain from voting on a personnel issue. He has an agenda of his own and it has nothing to do with what is right for kids!

  6. Nothing new…. Board Attorneys or any Attorney always looks at billable hours and not in the best interest of the client. The BWSD attorney should seriously be investigated for his legal opinions and actions through the years.

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