Many board members question if they have a conflict of interest whether due to relationships, attempting to sell goods or services to the public agency they serve, or seeking employment with the agency they serve. Also, candidates for boards of education question whether they will have a conflict of interest if elected because of their current job or another public position they hold. 

One of the most violated section of ethics is nepotism.  Nepotism is authorizing the employment of a family member or using your influence as a public official to secure the employment of a family member. One regularly asked question about nepotism is who is defined as a family member. A family member is a public official’s spouse, child(ren), siblings, parents, grandparents, and grandchildren. It also includes any other person related by blood or marriage living in the same household with the public official.

Can a board of education member, district administrator or even a teacher sell goods or services to the district they serve? For board members, the answer is no (R.C. 3313.33). For district employees, there are some exceptions but are allowed under certain conditions.

Can a public official be hired by the agency they serve? Again, the answer is almost always no.  Recently, Jennifer Hardin wrote an “According to Law” article that articulates an advisory opinion on whether a board member could be a coach, a commonly asked question.  The short answer is one could be a volunteer coach but will be barred from voting, discussing, deliberating or taking any other action on any matters that affect athletic department personnel.

Candidates for boards of education who are trying to figure out if their current public job will pose a conflict should they become a board member can read the compatibility of public offices or positions prepared by the Ohio Attorney General’s office. This should help determine if the roles will pose a conflict that bars the person from serving in both at the same time.

Lastly, another great resource to stay ethically compliant is the Ohio Ethics Law 101:The Ethics Toolkit for Public School Districts. This document has many links to the opinions discussed so a deeper dive can be taken.

OSBA’s division of legal services will continue to monitor and share information about conflicts of interest as it is made available. As always, you can reach out to the division at (855) 672-2529 or (855) OSBA-LAW for assistance.

Posted by Ralph Lusher III on 3/19/2021