NC board deserves its notice

Elected officials should abstain from voting anytime their vote could be construed as a possible conflict of interest, or raise other ethics concerns.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale believes some members of the Northern Cambria School Board deviated from that “don’t” that’s embedded in the foundation of all public service. As a result, he has put those school directors – and the board as a whole – on notice that they must avoid such actions going forward.

Rightly so. Taxpayers’ money is at the heart of the issues that DePasquale’s office has closely examined. The amount in question is more than $25,000.

In an audit report covering the years 2008-13, the auditor general identified instances of poor record-keeping and, even more troubling, examples of the district failing to fix problems identified in previous audits.

Some money for which the district was eligible could not be claimed by the school district due to the shoddy record-keeping. Fortunately, according to DePasquale, at least some of that money might be retrievable if and when the district corrects the inadequate data management.

It’s hard to fathom any member of the Northern Cambria board not abstaining from voting on a motion affecting a family member, yet the board members in question voted on a travel reimbursement and private settlement agreement involving spouses. One of the votes occurred during the past year.

It’s troubling that the board members whose spouses were at the center of the issues being considered weren’t cautioned about the possibility of ethical issues being raised.

But the audit report also is flawed in one respect. It failed to clearly identify the board members who DePasquale feels might have violated the commonwealth’s ethics act.

District residents have a right to know.

On record keeping, the audit determined the district submitted some inaccurate data that resulted in Northern Cambria losing more than $25,000 in tuition reimbursements from the Department of Education and that, for the third straight audit, the district failed to correct problems with its accounting procedures for non-public school transportation.

That the district apparently will be able to recoup some of its lost money should provide some consolation to taxpayers, although they should remain concerned that the problems occurred at all.

The disclosure by DePasquale that the district failed to take proper corrective actions in the aftermath of previous audits requires taxpayer demands for better handling of district business from now on.

Meanwhile, no elected official should participate in a vote benefiting himself, herself or a relative such as a spouse, son or daughter.

Not a lot of money was involved in the travel reimbursement vote, just $1,500, and the private settlement involved $12,000, paid by an insurance carrier directly to an attorney.

However, elected officials must approve payments in the right way and account for every penny – and no window for perception of conflict of interest should be left open.

Northern Cambria board members should commit themselves to making sure they don’t repeat the missteps on which DePasquale is focused.

Although the errors are not being portrayed as criminal, they justify deep concern because they are examples of violation of the public trust.