Can a board member be considered for a paid position, such as a project manager, funded by a grant received by the district?
January 9, 2015
The appointment of a school board member for a paid position that is funded through a grant awarded to a district raises legal and ethical issues, depending on the circumstances.
ORS 332.016 prohibits employees of a school district from serving on the school board. Therefore, if the position is structured as an employee of the district, a sitting board member could not be hired for the job.
If the paid position would be a contractor or an agent, not an employee, a board member could fill the position. However, this could create a conflict of interest under ethics law. The board member has an actual conflict of interest regarding any action the board takes to fill the position for which the board member is a candidate. With an actual conflict, a board member cannot participate in any manner in the selection of the candidate. The board member must publicly announce the nature of the conflict and should be completely screened from the hiring process (discussion, screening, interviewing, voting, etc.).
Once in the paid role, the board member will have a potential conflict on actions the board takes regarding the subject of the grant. The board member must publicly announce a potential conflict and may, under the ethics rules, participate in the discussion and vote—however, it would be advisable for the board member to both announce the potential conflict and recuse themselves from that vote. One approach is to allow the board member to participate in discussions, so the board gets the benefit of the board member’s perspective, but not participate in the vote on the subject of the grant project. The appearance of conflict can be as damaging as an actual conflict.
The Ethics commission’s guide for public officials goes into this topic in greater detail, and it can be download from: http://www.oregon.gov/OGEC/docs/Public_Official_Guide/2010%20Guide%20for%20Public%20Officials.pdf
If the board wants to consider the board member for the position, they need to ensure a very open and transparent hiring process. An RFP open to the public is a good start. Districts should be very careful to avoid the appearance of any back room decision-making. All discussions regarding the paid position should be noted on the record, whether the board member was present, recused themselves, and left the room, among other things.
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