05/16/08 — Expert: Conflict no issue for two hopefuls

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Expert: Conflict no issue for two hopefuls

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 16, 2008 2:42 PM

David Lawrence, a leading professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's Institute of Government, agrees with the assessments of Wayne County attorney Borden Parker and Wayne County School Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor that there is no formal statutory conflict of interest looming for two school employees running for seats on the county Board of Commissioners.

Both Sandra McCullen and Denny Tart are running for seats on the Wayne County Board of Commissioners.

Mrs. McCullen, who serves as associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction, captured the Democratic nomination for the commission's at-large seat during the May 6 primary.

Tart, who serves as director of workforce development, is running as a Democrat for the District 4 seat.

And neither has announced plans to retire, despite Mrs. McCullen having 33 years under her belt and Tart, 27.

That also means, Taylor has said, that both should have plenty of accrued time off to attend to their commission duties -- an important point since the board meets every first and third Tuesday of the month beginning at 8 a.m.

"They'll have to take their annual leave, which is vacation time," he was quoted as saying earlier this week. "If they have to take a half day off for a meeting or a whole day off ... any time you would take off from the job, the applicable leave time that's available to you will apply."

And such a policy, Lawrence explained, is up to the superintendent -- just like it would be any other private employer as there are no statutory guidelines for such circumstances.

What there are statutory guidelines for, however, are the conflict of interest issues. However, those apply primarily to issues in which board members have a "personal financial interest."

And, Lawrence explained, even though the commission does vote on the school system's budget, which affects both Mrs. McCullen's and Tart's salaries, that is something of a gray area because they aren't voting directly on those items.

However, he added that he tends to lean on the side of caution, though he admitted that not every school official serving on a county commission -- something that while "not common" is "not rare" -- follows his advice.

"I've suggested that somebody like them not vote on such matters as the school board's budget. I think it's appropriate for them to (recuse themselves), but it's not absolutely clear in the statutes," he said.