Nepotism and School Board Elections

McCaulley Wardynski

[Update: It has been pointed out to me that I should have referenced the HB431 “The School Board Governance Improvement Act of 2012” in this post. This is absolutely correct as it might have had a direct impact on the inclusion of this policy. However this law offers no requirements that a school board member’s family resign once a school board member takes office. The closest requirement is: Section 2(c)(3) which reads: “No person shall be elegible for election or appointment as a member of a county board of education unless he or she satisfies all of the following qualifications: (3) Is not employed by that county board of education, unless serving as a member of the county board of education on the effective date of this act.” As I read and understand that, that means that a person currently working for the school board cannot also be a board member (excluding those who are grandfathered in.)

There is no requirement in the law that states that a school board member’s family cannot be an employee of the board of education.

Thanks to good readers for pointing out this omission.]

If Pat King wins her race against Laurie McCaulley for the school board, the new assistant principal of Huntsville Middle School–her husband, who has worked for the district for the past 18 years–will be forced to resign thanks to a new policy created by our superintendent and approved by the Board of Education under Mrs. McCaulley’s leadership.

Our children should be protected against people using their positions for their own private benefit, but punishing a family member who is already employed by the district is simply an attempt to subvert the democratic process and control who runs for the school board.

If you haven’t already downloaded and read through the new Huntsville City Schools Policy Manual, you might want to do so now. I can’t promise you it’s a fun read, but is certainly is interesting.

Nepotism

One of the most interesting parts is found on Page 46, section 5.2.8 entitled “Nepotism.”

This section reads:

a. Supervisory Relationships – No employee may be assigned to a work location or to a position in which the employee would report to, be evaluated by, or would work under the supervision of another family member as defined in the Alabama Ethics Law. Any inadvertent employment or assignment of a family member that violates this policy must be promptly disclosed to the Superintendent upon its discovery, and all involved employees must cooperate in accepting reassignments or taking other measures necessary to correct the violation.

b. Employment of Family Members – Administrators and supervisors may not use their positions to directly or indirectly seek or secure the employment of any family member as defined in the Alabama Ethics Law.

No family members of Board members as defined in the Alabama Ethics law shall be employed by the Board, and any family member of a Board member who is employed by the Board upon their family member’s election shall resign their position with the Board before their family member assumes office.

The 2011 Policy Manual

As with all long documents, the new policy manual took a while to develop. After all, the document being replaced wasn’t a single document, but rather an ever-growing individual collection of policies and procedures published as single documents. If you would like to take a look at the previous Policy Manual’s Index, you may review it here. The index was seven pages long listed eleven separate sections of the Policy Manual. One thing that this earlier version of the policy manual didn’t include was a Nepotism policy as you can see from reviewing the “N” Section of the index below:

PM Index

This nepotism policy is a new one that the superintendent and the board came up with when they were revising the policy manual during the spring.

First Draft (March 2012)

Clearly they’ve been working on these new policies for a long time. I have a copy, for example, of a draft of the changes to the policy manual dated March 2012. This was the working, draft copy of the Policy Manual that the superintendent and the board distributed to a select group of individuals throughout the district seeking their input. It was the working manual until June 6, 2012 when the revised manual was presented to the board.

Interestingly enough, this draft policy manual had a slightly different version of the Nepotism policy than the one that was voted on by the board. Here’s the draft Nepotism policy:

Nepotism Policy 0312

As you can see, the first part of the policy is basically the same. 5.2.8(a) Nepotism reads:

a. Supervisory Relationships – No employee may be assigned to a work location or to a position in which the employee would report to, be evaluated by, or would work under the immediate supervision of another family member as defined in the Alabama Ethics Law. Any inadvertent employment or assignment of a family member that violates this policy must be promptly disclosed to the Superintendent upon its discovery, and all involved employees must cooperate in accepting reassignments or taking other measures necessary to correct the violation.

The problem arises when we look at the 5.2.8(b) section, which reads:

Employment of Family Members – Board members, administrators, or supervisors may not use their positions to directly or indirectly seek or secure the employment of any family member as defined in the Alabama Ethics Law.

As you see, the draft policy 5.2.8(b) is fairly reasonable. It prohibits people from using their positions to hire a family member, which is a good thing. It falls in line with the Alabama Ethics Law 36-25-5(a)which states:

No public official or public employee shall use or cause to be used his or her official position or office to obtain personal gain for himself or herself, or family member of the public employee or family member of the public official, or any business with which the person is associated unless the use and gain are otherwise specifically authorized by law. Personal gain is achieved when the public official, public employee, or a family member thereof receives, obtains, exerts control over, or otherwise converts to personal use the object constituting such personal gain.

The law does not require that family members of board members resign as a result of their familial connections. All that’s required is that the board member not hire his or her family members after they’re in a position to influence the hiring decision.

The Second Draft (June 6, 2012)

During the Work Session of the June 6th meeting, the board was presented with what would become the final version of the Policy Manual. Belinda Williams and Dr. Wardynski offered a brief presentation (the entire discussion lasted eight minutes) of the work that Mr. Spinelli and an undisclosed “Superintendent’s Leadership Team” had done. The only discussion of the policy manual that took place was concerning Dr. Robinson’s desire that we post the manual on eBoards.

There was no discussion of specific policy changes, and there was no discussion of the nepotism policy at all.

Extremism Masked as Reform

Telling board members they can’t use “their positions to directly or indirectly seek or secure the employment of any family member” is a far cry from the policy as it was finally approved. Here’s the final version of Policy 5.2.8(b) again:

b. Employment of Family Members – Administrators and supervisors may not use their positions to directly or indirectly seek or secure the employment of any family member as defined in the Alabama Ethics Law.

No family members of Board members as defined in the Alabama Ethics law shall be employed by the Board, and any family member of a Board member who is employed by the Board upon their family member’s election shall resign their position with the Board before their family member assumes office. That entire second paragraph is brand new and was added between the publication of the Policy Manual Draft in March 2012 and the approved policy dated June 21, 2012.

Since the policy specifically references the Alabama Ethics law, it would be helpful to review what the Alabama Ethics Commission has to say about nepotism. A quick review the opinions offered by the Alabama Ethics Commission finds no opinion that would support such a punitive response to the election of a family member. All four of the opinions offered deal exclusively with the hiring of a family after a person is elected or appointed to a public office.

If a district employee were competent enough to warrant hiring on his or her own merits, why should that employee be required to resign simply because a family member wins a seat on the board?

The Alabama Attorney General offered a similar opinionon Nepotism back in 2008. Rep. James Buskey asked for an opinion concerning nepotism and the recommendation of the hiring of a Superintendent’s family member. The opinion offered this advice:

to avoid running afoul of the nepotism statute when recommending a relative: (1) recommend at least one other equally qualified person for the position, and (2) refrain from participating in the board’s decision-making process. This would give the board the option to select either of the qualified applicants.

Thus, the superintendent could even recommend the hiring of a family member so long as he or she did not unduly influence the process after making the recommendation.

If a single superintendent could recommend a family member without running afoul of the law why couldn’t the Huntsville Board of Education, which has five members, manage the same? Clearly the recusal process could easily cover any potential issues that might arrise.

I’ve watched the board for over a year now. They pride themselves on taking a hands off approach to handling human resource issues. On the rare occasion that they are required to step in, clearly a board member who has a family member being brought up for discussion could simply excuse him or herself for a quick drink of water.

Who Added This New Policy And Why?

Without having access to the meetings where this the new policy manual was discussed and developed, we may never know who suggested the inclusion of this new verbiage between March and June 2012.

However, we can see at least one person who would benefit from its inclusion.

The primary beneficiary here is Mrs. Laurie McCaulley, the current school board president, who is running for re-election of District 1 on August 28th. She is opposed by three other candidates: Reginald Hill, Gwen Ragland, and Pat King.

In so far as I am aware, the Pat King is the only candidate that has a family member currently working for the district. Her husband, Johnny King is an assistant principal who was transferred to Huntsville Middle School as one of their two assistant principals at the board meeting last night. Mr. Johnny King has at least 18 years of experience according to the Human Resource report. It seems that he’s qualified entirely on his own merits.

And of the four candidates running for the District 1 seat, the one who collected 45% of the vote in the previous election would likely have the best shot at unseating an incumbent.

Pat King began taking steps to run again as early as 2011. Her Facebook campaign page went live for the 2012 election on May 16, 2012. At some point between March 2012 and June 6, 2012 the new policy was included in the Policy Manual.

I do not know if Mrs. McCaulley knew that change had been made to the new Policy Manual, but as a member of the board, she should have. She had at least two weeks between the June 6th and June 21st meetings to have reviewed it. When the manual came up for a vote on June 21st, none of the board members asked any questions before they voted unanimously to approve it.

This policy isn’t necessary. Even the Ethics Commission’s opinions demonstrate that this goes too far. Its purpose isn’t to control nepotism.  Its purpose is to control the nature and direction of the board. Its purpose is to subvert the democratic process by predetermining who is and who is not qualified to have an opinion and influence over the direction of our schools. As a show of good faith in the people of Huntsville and in the teachers and staff of our school system, the policy should be removed before the August 28th election.

If not, well, I for one still believe in an informed and educated public who has the right to vote can shake things up for the better. I hope that Mrs. McCaulley believes in fair elections as well.

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

14 Comments

  1. So, if you get the most votes your husband loses his job. That’s not nepotism, it’s an attempt to subvert the process by interpreting policy to ones benefit. Mr. King is already an employee, not a new hire, so this “policy” wouldn’t apply to him anyway.

    The fact Laurie McCaulley has three people trying to unseat her evidently has her running scared, and it should, because it speaks to the level of misrepresentation she’s provided the residents of District 1. The policy interpretation is self serving, vindictive, and unethical, which is typical Laurie McCaulley. It shouldn’t surprise anyone she has resorted to gutter politics to save her job. I wonder if David Blair has his hands in this?

    “This policy isn’t necessary. Even the Ethics Commission’s opinions demonstrate that this goes too far. Its purpose isn’t to control nepotism. Its purpose is to control the nature and direction of the board. Its purpose is to subvert the democratic process by predetermining who is and who is not qualified to have an opinion and influence over the direction of our schools. As a show of good faith in the people of Huntsville and in the teachers and staff of our school system, the policy should be removed before the August 28th election.”

  2. The policy itself sounds a bit nepotistic, if you ask me. It’s a way for the president to keep her job in the face a strong challenger. McCaully probably senses her own vulnerability in this election from a King challenge. Having dealt with the incumbent before I have no doubt she was aware of the changes and more than likely even wrote them.

  3. It is amusing to me that the Alabama Ethics Commission’s definition of “family” does not include domestic partners, either of the hetero or homosexual variety. So, folks, if you want a career in the HCS, and your partner thinks he or she might one day run for the Board, do not marry.

  4. Russ, I am rather concerned that your legal opinions cited are current to 1995 for the Ethics Comission and to 2008 for the Attorney General. I know darn well that you are VERY aware of the sweeping changes to the Alabama Legislature as of the 2010 elections and of the sweeping reforms to Ethics Laws and the Students First Act since that election. How about actually checking out the changes and talking about whether there are changes? – especially in light of the fact that new laws pertaining to the qualifications, training, and discipline of local school board members were passed in April 2012 in response to the hideous behavior of the Birmingham Board of Education members in public meetings. I know that Ms. King is a friend of yours and she is probably a very good candidate. However, this article – without any mention of recent changes to the laws – appears to just be bashing the current board and particularly Ms. McCaulley out of a personal grudge. That appearance in your endorsement will make me scrutinize Ms. King much more carefully as a candidate.

    1. “Pat King began taking steps to run again as early as 2011. Her Facebook campaign page went live for the 2012 election on May 16, 2012. At some point between March 2012 and June 6, 2012 the new policy was included in the Policy Manual.”

      The superintendent recommends policy, and the board adopts. The facts are clear in this case:

      “The primary beneficiary here is Mrs. Laurie McCaulley, the current school board president, who is running for re-election of District 1 on August 28th. She is opposed by three other candidates: Reginald Hill, Gwen Ragland, and Pat King.

      In so far as I am aware, the Pat King is the only candidate that has a family member currently working for the district. Her husband, Johnny King is an assistant principal who was transferred to Huntsville Middle School as one of their two assistant principals at the board meeting last night. Mr. Johnny King has at least 18 years of experience according to the Human Resource report. It seems that he’s qualified entirely on his own merits.”

      BTW, this is well researched, well written blog post,not an “article”, the defensive tone of your comments appear to bash the author for bringing this policy to light.

      “This policy isn’t necessary. Even the Ethics Commission’s opinions demonstrate that this goes too far. Its purpose isn’t to control nepotism. Its purpose is to control the nature and direction of the board. Its purpose is to subvert the democratic process by predetermining who is and who is not qualified to have an opinion and influence over the direction of our schools. As a show of good faith in the people of Huntsville and in the teachers and staff of our school system, the policy should be removed before the August 28th election.”

    2. Ms. B.,

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      I have done my best to research the possibility that this policy was dictated by the state. I have found no evidence of that. If you have evidence that it was, please feel free to share it with me.

      The Students First Act contains no reference to nepotism. I did not reference it because it doesn’t deal with the issue at hand.

      I did an extensive search of the Ethics Commission’s website. I was able to find exactly four opinions referencing nepotism, and none of them could be construed to require that an existing employee must resign if and when their family member was elected to the board of education. Those opinions are referenced in the post.

      You referenced the HB431 “The School Board Governance Improvement Act of 2012.” You’re correct that I should have referenced it in the post. I will correct that now. However, it offers no requirements that a school board member’s family resign once a school board member takes office. The closest requirement is: Section 2(c)(3) which reads: “No person shall be elegible for election or appointment as a member of a county board of education unless he or she satisfies all of the following qualifications: (3) Is not employed by that county board of education, unless serving as a member of the county board of education on the effective date of this act.” As I read and understand that, that means that a person currently working for the school board cannot also be a board member (excluding those who are grandfathered in.)

      There is no requirement in the law that states that a school board member’s family cannot be an employee of the board of education.

      Here’s a link to the new law http://media.al.com/breaking/other/School%20Board%20Governance%20Improvement%20Act%20of%202012.pdf

      Concerning your comments that I have written this out of “a personal grudge” against Mrs. McCaulley, I have only this to say: I do not have a grudge against any of the members of the school board, Dr. Wardynski, or any of the employees of the central office. While I do not like many of the decisions that they are making, I hold none of them any ill will. If you know of an instance where I have shown them less than the respect due to their office, please let me know and I will make amends for doing so.

      And please, if you know of a state law, or opinion that would require the school board to include this policy in the new policy manual, post it here or share it with me privately if you wish.

      While I make no claims to perfection, I do try extremely hard to get it right. If I’ve gotten it wrong, please show me.

      Thanks,
      Russell

  5. I went back and read this post this morning, and it comes across much harsher than I intended. I do not have a question as to your integrity on the information you presented. I am very concerned about thorough presentation of the facts – especially when your presentation indicates potential corruption and you point to a particular individual as responsible.

    1. And I do apologize for casting aspersions on your intent. My intent was to demonstrate the reaction to this article with the omission of this very pertinent aspect.

      1. Really, it’s cool. No apology necessary.

        I cast aspersions on my intentions all the time. It’s the only way to be sure that you’re doing things for the right reasons.

    2. Ms B,

      No worries. I wasn’t offended at all. I truly do appreciate it when someone questions what I write. It makes me a better writer. You were ABSOLUTELY right about the importance of referencing the School Board Governance Act. I should have done so in the article. I think now that rather than include it in the post above, I’ll write it up in it’s own posting.

      I appreciate your comments and information. I have in the past thought that the leadership of the district was stuck in an echo chamber where they only heard what they wanted to hear. In so far as I am able to protect against that here, I truly want to do so.

      Please, please, please, keep questioning me.

      As Socrates may have said, “I’m only wise in that I know that I don’t know everything.” The only way I can remember this is when people question what I write and post.

      And I completely agree that I have a responsibility to get it right. I’m trying.

      Also, I don’t think that Ms. McCaulley is “responsible” for the inclusion of the policy. I simply think that she benefits from it.

      1. When you do, I have a request. I would love to see a real analysis of what has changed and how the changes should affect our district.

        1. I’ve updated the post above to include the School Board Governance Act.

          I would love to see a real analysis of what has changed as well. I’ll see what I can do about that. It would have been nice if the school board had requested such an analysis during the work session on June 6th when the new policy manual was presented to them.

          They discussed this 98 page document for a total of 8 minutes before the public.

          I’ll see what I can do to elucidate the changes between the two documents. They are quite different both in structure and content.

          1. ” It would have been nice if the school board had requested such an analysis during the work session on June 6th when the new policy manual was presented to them.”

            I agree, it also would have been nice if they included a policy that said they had to address questions presented to them at school board meetings in public.

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