Board member’s spouse is a teacher: Conflict of interest? (Part 2)
In my previous post the question was – Is it a conflict of interest if the spouse of a member of the Board of Education is a teacher and receives a salary negotiated with that board and the board member is covered under the health insurance plan of the spouse?
Many would believe that if this relationship is not a conflict of interest, what is? What actions should the board member take when issues such as salary negotiations and payroll, that benefit both the spouse and the board member’s income, come before the board for action?
Even if the board member abstains from the vote on issues that directly benefit them monetarily, one would believe that the member must also refrain from deliberations with other board members that might influence their vote.
In abstaining is that board member adequately representing their subdistricts on issues that might affect those constituents, such as reduction in programs versus union concessions to reduce deficits?
The Illinois Education Association’s opinion is that members of the board of education in the state of Illinois are considered to have a conflict of interest in the position of board member, only when their spouse is directly impacted as an individual, not when it affects all the members of the union, such as across the board raises or benefits, even if the board member has pecuniary interest in the outcome.
An investigation of Attorneys General opinion in the state of Illinois on this issue reveals that on April 30, 1976 William J. Scott, Attorney General’s opinion was that, “considering then whether the board member has a conflict of interest, I am of the opinion that he does, and have advised in other contexts that the interest of one’s spouse may be attributed to one’s self and be a prohibited interest.”
“There is a natural and probable sharing of assets between spouses. This probability of sharing is sufficient to create a conflict of interest in this situation.” This ruling was made under Paragraph 3 of the Corrupt Practices Act.
In another case, Tyrone C. Fahner, State of Illinois Attorney General opined in October, 1980 that a contract did not fall under the same opinion for a Mayor and his wife’s contract but it did reference another case in the Appellate Court for the Fifth District in the People versus Simpkins (1977) that in this case that a conflict of interest did not exist where a mayor’s wife was an employee of and paid from the city treasury.
Roland W. Burris, Attorney General of state of Illinois on June 21, 1993 having reviewed the issue ruled when a commissioner, even appointed, was covered by Paragraph 3 of the Corrupt Practices Act, “but that a wife’s interest in a contract is not necessarily the husbands interest, provided the contract is not mere subterfuge for his own pecuniary interest.” and since the husband had no ownership in his wife’s firm, the awarding of the contract was not a violation of the Act nor a conflict of interest.
There is interesting reading on this subject by Paul W. Thurston at the University of Illinois and his conclusion in July 1977 was the uncertainty of the conflict-of-interest laws in Illinois regarding spousal relationships. I could not find any further cases of spouses married to school board members and am not familiar with any legislation in the 105 ILSC 5/ school code which further clarifies the issue for our state or any Illinois State Supreme Court decision on the issue.
In other states like Kansas, however, “No conflict of interest arises because candidate for county has a spouse who is a teacher in local school under opinions stated in Opinion 80-16, and even more to the point, “Unified school district teacher may also serve as a school board member; school district is not a business or person as defined. 90-21 Also school teacher may serve on board of education of teacher’s school district. 91-5 And finally, Board of Education member whose spouse is teacher on teachers’ negotiating team; no conflict of interest.
And in Ohio, the Ohio Ethics Commission’s advisory Opinion No. 82-003 states, “Section 2921.42 of the Revised Code does not prohibit a school board member, whose spouse is a teacher and a member of the teachers’ union in the school district, from voting on a master contract between the school district and the teachers’ union.”
In Greenon Ohio, three school board members are currently married to teachers in the Greenon district (November 22, 2010). Even though it may be legally acceptable, the three board members usually abstain from issues that might even be perceived to be a conflict of interest.
Ethics laws specifically prohibit board members from voting in some instances, said Hollie Reedy, chief legal counsel for the Ohio Schools Boards Association. For example, she said, when approving a bargaining unit contract, board members married to teachers must abstain if they get health insurance through their spouse or if their spouse is a union officer or on the negotiations team for the union.
The Ohio Commission ruled that, Division (A)(1) of Section 2921.42 of the Revised Code prohibits a school board member, whose spouse is a teacher in the school district, from authorizing, voting, or otherwise using the authority or influence of his office to secure approval of an individual contract with his spouse. This is the same position initially taken by the Illinois Education Association.
On further review the opinions, rulings and actions taken by board members in this situation has yet to be determined in a definitive way, at least everywhere but Kansas.
Due to the legal uncertainty on this issue and the varied opinions, rulings, etc., it will be up to the community to observe what votes are taken, the results of those votes and if so inclined, one may expend a lot of time and money to get a higher ruling from the Illinois Supreme Court. Government courts, however, have a tendency to rule differently under the law than what might be perceived by the public.