DA backs school district in fight over trustee’s seat
MINDEN – Douglas High School teacher Randy Green does not have a right to take his school board seat, according to an opinion issued by Douglas County District Attorney Scott Doyle.
The Douglas County School District is seeking an order from District Court Judge Michael Gibbons on the legality of a teacher sitting on a board in the same district where he teaches. The hearing will be held Dec. 29.
Doyle prepared a response to the lawsuit for Douglas County Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Reed. Green and Reed are both named as defendants in the lawsuit filed by the school district and both filed responses Dec. 18. The document filed by Doyle says the county and the county clerk cannot support Green’s position.
“Being allowed to run and being elected does not create a legal right to take office,” the document reads.
Reed stated in a court document that her office has not issued a certificate of election to Green.
Reed was named in the lawsuit to prevent her from administering the oath of office to Green, a teacher who was elected to the school board of trustees in November. County officials are to be sworn in Jan. 1.
The document cites many previous cases that are similar to Green’s. All of the cases support the school district’s opinion that it is illegal for a teacher to sit on a school board in the same district where he teaches.
“The county and the county clerk have no particular affinity in seeing either the school district or Green prevail,” Doyle wrote. “What is of interest to county officials is that this case of apparent first impression in this district be resolved on established legal principles. That is why the county officials tried to determine if there is legal authority to support Green in this matter in addition to that cited which supports the school district. Apparently there is not.”
Bob Cox, attorney for the DCSD, said the county’s statements are an “affirmation.”
“It’s consistent with the law in the state and other states dealing with this issue,” Cox said in an interview Thursday. “What I believe Mr. Doyle did was he looked at it in a balanced way to see what the law is and could find no law to support Mr. Green. I don’t look at it as a bonus, but an affirmation of what we have contended all along, that the law is clear and Mr. Green must choose one or the other.”
In a 1989 New York case, Fletcher vs. Marino, several school employees sued because they felt the statute that said school employees were ineligible to be a board member was unconstitutional. The district court sided with the employees, but the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision.
In State ex rel. Pryor vs. Martin in 1999, the Supreme Court of Alabama ruled the statutes precluded the appointment or election to the board a person “who is subject to the authority of the board.”
The document filed by the county also said allowing Green to abstain from votes in which there could be a conflict of interest was not a good solution to the conflict. It cited a similar case in which a Florida teacher was allowed to take a personal leave of absence without pay to serve on her school board.
Documents filed by Green’s attorney George Keele on Dec. 18 present the Nevada Commission on Ethics 1997 decision on the Howard Rosenberg case as a defense.
Rosenberg, who was a tenured professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, was elected to the Board of Regents.
“The court should be able to discern readily that the Legislature intended precisely the result that the Ethics Commission produced in the Rosenberg opinion, to-wit: that the provisions of NRS 386.305 were enacted primarily to foreclose any interest a public officer might surreptitiously or overtly acquire in a commercial contract made by a board of which the officer is a member.”
Keele’s argument is that the Legislature intended the voters to make a decision on conflicts of interest and allow for public officers to abstain from individual votes while still serving as a full board member.
“It must be presumed that the independence of judgment of a reasonable person (namely: Randy Green) would not be materially affected by his pecuniary interest (i.e.: his own future contract and Karen Green’s future contract) or his commitment in a private capacity to the interests of others,” the document reads. “A more perfect example of someone whose judgment would be less materially affected by his pecuniary interest than a teacher, such as Randy Green, who has ‘topped out’ in the step-and-grade climb up the DCSD salary schedule.”
Keele’s argument also cites the fact that school board members whose spouses are employed by the school district also have a conflict of interest, therefore, if they are allowed to sit on the board, so should Green.
“Pursuant to Plaintiff Douglas County School District’s reasoning, present DCSD board member Randy Wallstrum, who is also married to a teacher within DCSD, has a ‘financial interest’ in every decision and action in every decision and action contemplated by the board of trustees,” the document reads.
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