Boards are generally permitted to adopt a resolution to grant board members free admission to school-sponsored events, but should be cognizant of the relevant ethics laws and the potential for appearances of impropriety. The Ohio Revised Code prohibits public officials, including school board members, from using their office to solicit or accept things of value from those parties they regulate or with whom they do business. The Ohio Ethics Commission provides general guidance on accepting gifts, meals, entertainment or other things of value in Information Sheet #7, which is available online at http://links.osba-ohio.org/89545/. As the guidance suggests, the facts and circumstances of each situation determine whether a gift, meal, entertainment or other thing of value could have a substantial or improper influence upon an official in the performance of his or her duties. In these types of situations, there is a strong public purpose argument behind providing board members with free admission since it enables them to more knowledgeably perform their duties as they relate to overseeing the activities of the school district. As a result, permitting board members to attend school-sponsored events free of charge is generally permissible, but may give rise to the appearance of impropriety. Districts that elect to grant board members free admission to school-sponsored events should limit the complimentary passes to the actual board member. There is generally no reasonable justification or public purpose argument for giving board members a family pass or additional free passes for friends.
Posted by OSBA Legal Ledger on 1/15/2010