This month, we’ve been looking at the most common questions OSBA attorneys receive regarding board member conflicts-of-interest. Those include:
- the individual currently works for the district,
- the individual has a family member working for the school district,
- the individual is employed by a company that has an active contract with the district (discussed below), or
- the individual serves another public office (next week’s topic).
Remember, OSBA attorneys cannot provide a legal analysis of the specifics for a board member, but we can point you to resources that explain the law and its restrictions. When specific conflict of interest questions arise, OSBA recommends contacting your board counsel for a legal opinion.
Board-members elect that are employed by a company that has an active contract with the district
R.C. 3313.33 prohibits a board member from having any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any contract of the board, unless an exception applies. The restrictions for school board members are more stringent than those of Ohio’s general ethics laws.
The Ohio Attorney General (OAG) wrote in OAG Op. No. 99-023 that employment is a pecuniary interest, even though that interest may be very indirect with respect to a contemplated contract with the school district. In the scenario considered by the OAG, a school board member was employed by an educational service center (ESC). The ESC wanted to contract with the district to provide technology services. Even though the board member would not be assigned to work with the school district, the OAG still found that R.C. 3313.33 prohibited such a contract.
Some narrow exceptions do exist to R.C. 3313.33’s contracting restrictions. Under R.C. 3313.33(C), “a member of the board may have a pecuniary interest in a contract of the board if all of the following apply:
- The member's pecuniary interest in that contract is that the member is employed by a political subdivision, instrumentality, or agency of the state that is contracting with the board;
- The member does not participate in any discussion or debate regarding the contract or vote on the contract;
- The member files with the school district treasurer an affidavit stating the member's exact employment status with the political subdivision, instrumentality, or agency contracting with the board.”
R.C. 3313.33(C) was added to the statute after the OAG analyzed the statute for the 1999 opinion referenced above. R.C. 3313.33(C) would now permit the board to contract with an ESC (or any other state or local government agency) even if a board member is employed by the ESC, but the 1999 opinion remains relevant for analysis of board members working for non-governmental employers.
R.C. 3313.33(D) also provides an exception for board members that are stockholders of less than 5% of a company and are not officers or directors for the entity seeking a contract with the district.
Learn more at the New Board Member Academies
Ethics is among the many topics that will be covered at OSBA’s New Board Member Academies around the state in January. OSBA staff will be presenting sessions on Sunshine laws, boardsmanship, media relations and social media, policy, lobbying, finance, transportation, and labor management issues during the two-day workshops. You can register new board members here:
- Southwest (Miamisburg) – January 9 & 10
- Northeast (Independence) – January 9 & 10
- Northwest (Perrysburg) – January 23 & 24
- Central (Columbus) – January 23 & 24