“You recuse yourself if you feel there is a conflict of interest. I don’t see a conflict there at all,” Robinson said Wednesday afternoon. “There are a large number of people who do business with the school district, and many of them make campaign contributions. We wouldn’t vote on anything if we recused ourselves every time that happened.”
—Dr. Jennie Robinson on receiving $500.00 from Randy Schrimsher one week before voting to sell him Stone Middle School.
One week before voting to sell Stone Middle School, Dr. Jennie Robinson received a $500.00 donation from Randall and Kelly Schrimsher, the proposed buyers of the property. Dr. Robinson, naturally, does not believe this to be neither illegal nor unethical. Sadly, she is likely correct about the legality of the situation, and she may be right about the ethicality of the situation if that is determined solely by the Alabama Ethics Commission.
But for those of us who are not school board members, prospective city council members, in other words those of us who are merely “feed stock,” a deal like this has a fairly distinctive odor. Like unto Justice Stewart’s definition of obscenity, we know what this smells like when we smell it.
Obscenity is a good word.
Is Dr. Robinson correct? Does she regularly take political donations from those having business before the board?
Anyone can review any campaign contributions at the Madison County Probate Court’s website. Once there, you can type in the candidate’s name and the date range you wish to look for, and you will find the campaign finance reports for each candidate. Early in the election cycle, reporting is done monthly. During the final month or so, reporting takes place weekly.
So let’s look at some of those who have made donations to Robinson’s 2014 city council campaign. This is not a comprehensive list, but it is fairly close to being so. (There are some donations that are not required to be itemized.)
- Elizabeth Schonrock—$5000.00 (12/4/2013)
- John Nolan—$5000.00 (12/18/2013)
- Alabama Flag and Banner—$1000.00 (5/5/2014)
- Major Gary Thie—$1000.00 (5/19/2014)
- Joe Ritch—$500.00 (6/21/2014)
- Jerry & Butch Damson—$500.00 (6/21/2014)
- James Hays—$500.00 (7/11/2014)
- Jane Hays—$500.00 (7/11/2014)
- Wade Hays—$500.00 (7/11/2014)
- John Hays—$500.00 (7/11/2014)
- Jeff Enfinger—$500.00 (7/11/2014)
- Raymond Jones Sr.—$350.00 (7/21/2014)
- BIZPAC (Committee of 100)—$2,500.00 (8/11/2014)
As you may remember, the Hays family sold land to the city appraised at $9.8 million for $2.5 million. They will, of course, retain the surrounding land which will then be developed by their company, Hylis Inc. Thus with the exception of Randall and Kelly Schrimsher, the only company making a donation to Dr. Robinson that directly receives funds from the school board is Alabama Flag and Banner. Over the past year, this company has received checks from the district totaling approximately $1,049.00. Thus, their donation appears to be basically a wash.
It would, therefore seem that Dr. Robinson was overstating how often she has received donations from persons with business coming before the board of education.
Thus, we are left with a few questions.
- If Dr. Robinson hasn’t actually received significant donations from persons with business before the board, why would she attempt to use that as a defense in this situation?
- Why would Dr. Robinson, who according to the Times has received campaign donations of just under $30,000, be willing to risk the appearance of impropriety for a mere $500.00 donation?
- Why would Dr. Robinson participate in the board’s executive committee discussion and subsequent vote for this deal when she should be able to rest assured that based on past history of approving every single recommendation that Dr. Wardynski has brought to them that the BOE would have approved this deal without her participation?
- Why do we assume a quid pro quo relationship between teachers and parents when a family gives a teacher a gift valued at more than $50.00 a year, but when a developer gives a politician ten times that we don’t?
The only reasonable answer that I can come up with is that she is convinced that the rules do not apply to her.
She certainly seemed to take this attitude when she and her supporters were in front of Chaffee Elementary on August 14, 2014 with two campaign workers waving campaign signs in volition of school board policy 4.12 Political Activity, which states:
Employees may not use Board property or resources to engage in political electioneering and may not engage in partisan political activities (including but not limited to the distribution of campaign material or literature) during regular school or duty hours or at Board-sponsored or Board-sanctioned events, functions, or at activities at which the employee is on duty or assigned official responsibilities.
I’m sure that she would claim that she is not the only person doing this (and sadly, she would be correct about that), but none of the others engaged in campaigning on school grounds actually had a hand in approving the policy she violated.
All that I can conclude is that Dr. Robinson believes that the rules don’t apply to her. We really do not need another politician who believes that.