The Muscogee County School Board candidate who had to resign his part-time job with the school district to get on the ballot wants the same reasoning applied to his opponent.
Mike Edmondson, a retired educator and the 1990 Teacher of the Year in the Muscogee County School District, wonders why John “Bart” Steed was allowed to qualify while his company, Kar-Tunes Car Stereo, has a contract worth an estimated $165,000 to service the heating, ventilation and air conditioning on MCSD buses.
The law seems to allows this disparity.
Steed and Edmondson are campaigning to replace District 2 representative John Thomas, who isn’t seeking re-election to a second four-year term.
Edmondson was working part time assisting the administration at the Rainey-McCullers School of the Arts when an election official told him he must resign that position to qualify as a candidate.
“I’m a little uneasy about someone having a contract with the entity that you’re then going to be potentially serving and that has control over approving those contracts,” Edmondson told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview. “It seems like a conflict of interest.”
The Ledger-Enquirer’s inquiry was the first time Edmondson heard about Steed’s relationship with MCSD, he said.
“I don’t see how it really is different than being employed, because you are essentially employed to do something for the district,” Edmondson said. “How can you effectively judge things if you know that some of your financials are being controlled by the very people that you’re judging, evaluating? It doesn’t feel very good to me.”
Edmondson then asserted Steed should “give up the contract.”
Steed, however, insists he is following the law.
“It is not a conflict of interest,” Steed told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview. “I will abide by all laws and rules that are governing this. As soon as the contract needs to be given up, I will give it up. I’ve done some research and you’ve done some research and know there’s nothing wrong. There’s nothing there to disqualify me from running for this office.”
State law’s only disqualifying criteria for a school board member related to being paid by a school district mentions employment — not contracted services. But the board’s code of ethics has two sections that address this situation:
▪ “No Board member shall act in his or her official capacity in any matter in which he or she, any of his or her immediate family members, or any business organization in which he or she has a material financial interest, that would reasonably be expected to impair his or her objectivity or independence of judgment. …”
▪ “No Board member shall solicit or accept or knowingly allow any of his or her immediate family members or any business organization in which he or she has an interest to solicit or accept any gift, favor, loan, political contribution, service, promise of future employment, or other thing of value based upon an understanding that the gift, favor, loan, contribution, service, promise, or other thing of value was given or offered for the purpose of influencing that board member in the discharge of his or her official duties. …”
Steed and the other candidates signed among their qualifying documents an affidavit affirming that they have “read and understand the code of ethics and the conflict of interest provisions applicable to members of local boards of education and agree to abide by them.”
That’s why, Steed said, Kar-Tunes won’t bid on the contract again while he serves on the board if he is elected.
“I’m providing a service to the school district,” Steed said. “People try to make it a bad thing. I’m trying to get the kids air conditioned. The school mechanics can’t handle the load and some of the technology that’s on these buses. I’m better suited for it. It’s not a bad thing that I’m working on these buses.”
Edmondson said he left a voicemail for Nancy Boren, director of the Muscogee County Elections and Registration Office, to seek a ruling on whether Steed has a conflict of interest.
Boren told the Ledger-Enquirer in an email, “I do not have a reaction to the assertion. … If and when it is brought as a challenge by another candidate, the Board of Elections will review for additional action as needed.”
As of 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Edmondson said he hasn’t filed a challenge because he is waiting to hear back from Boren.
Steed said it’s his understanding that state law allows him to be a candidate and to be elected while being paid by MCSD but the board’s code of ethics doesn’t allow him to serve on the board while being paid by MCSD. Asked whether that understanding his correct, Boren said she isn’t qualified to answer. In emails Thursday to the Ledger-Enquirer, city attorney Clifton Fay and board attorney Greg Ellington also weren’t definitive.
“The City Attorney’s office has no further comment,” Fay said.
Ellington said, “The school district’s policies speak for themselves. Again, determining whether someone is qualified to run for school board is not my role.”
Qualifying, which began at 9 a.m. Monday, continues until noon Friday. The deadline to register to vote in the state primary and local nonpartisan elections is April 23. Advance in-person voting will be April 30 through May 18 in the City Services Center, 3111 Citizens Way. May 22 will be Election Day for those races.
During its April 2017 meeting, the school board unanimously approved Superintendent David Lewis’ recommendation to contract with Kar-Tunes to service the HVAC on buses. The estimated cost was $65,000 in fiscal year 2017 and $100,000 in fiscal year 2018, which ends June 30.
According to a document attached to the agenda, 22 vendors were invited to submit a bid but only two responded: Kar-Tunes and Yancey Bus Sales and Service. Kar-Tunes was the lowest bidder, $90 per hour and a 24 percent markup on parts, while Yancey bid $112 per hour and a 25 percent markup on parts.