The Washington State Auditor’s Office has concluded that three Northshore School District (NSD) board members and Superintendent Larry Francois violated the Open Meetings Act by dining and discussing the new North Creek High School with a flooring vendor.
According to the auditor’s report, two board members notified the Washington State Auditor’s Office of the incident, which occurred in March.
“On March 1, 2015, while attending a conference, three of the five board members, as well as the superintendent attended a dinner paid for by a flooring vendor of the high school project. During the dinner, discussion included the new high school project,” the auditor’s report states. “In addition, a subsequent dinner was also purchased by the same vendor for two board members on March 21, 2015.”
By accepting the dinner, a gift, the board members are at risk of violating state law, as well as NSD policy.
RCW 42.23 states that no municipal officer may, directly or indirectly, give or receive…any compensation, gift, reward or gratuity from a source except the employing municipality. It also states that no municipal officer may disclose confidential information gained by reason of the officer’s position, nor may the officer otherwise use such information for his or her personal gain or benefit.
Under the RCW, the members could have faced up to a $500 fine and forfeiture of their office, however, the NSD has instead revise their policy to ensure meals are referenced in Policy 7324 – Relations with Vendors. The two board members also updated their financial affairs statement with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.
The state auditor notes that, by “creating a quorum of board members and discussing business” without advertising the special meeting 24-hours in advance, they violated the Open Public Meetings Act.
“Violations of the Open Public Meetings Act deny the citizens their right to be informed of board decision and actions,” the report states. “In addition, by receiving a gift from a vendor, the district is at risk of violating the Code of Ethics for Municipal Officers (RCW 42.23).”
The auditor’s office recommended that the district ensures compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act by providing board members, management and appropriate staff members with additional training on the conflicts of interest laws, the Open Public Meetings Act, as well as other district policies. Along with ensuring board members comply with the Code of Ethics for municipal officers.
“While the state auditor’s report suggests that preferential treatment may have been given to the vendor as a result of the board members receiving dinner, the district would like to emphasize that the decision regarding the selection of the flooring vendor was made far in advance of the date of these meals,” a school district statement said. “Furthermore, the meals had no impact on the decision making process.”
The statement goes on to include that neither the board or the superintendent were part of the vendor selection process and that Francois and one of the three board members reimbursed the vendor prior to the audit.