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Ethics complaint against state BOE president Green dismissed

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Ethics complaint against state BOE president Green dismissed
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette-Mail

A West Virginia Ethics Commission panel has dismissed the ethics complaint a state Board of Education member filed last month against the board’s president alleging violations of open meetings laws and other accusations.

Mike Green, president of the state school board, said he got a notice a few days ago that the Probable Cause Review Board found no reason to continue with an investigation into the allegations fellow board member Bill White made against him, which related to a Fayette County school consolidation plan and other issues. He declined to comment further on White’s allegations.

“It’s water under the bridge, it’s over, they found no probable cause,” Green said.

White, however, said he’s now considering filing a lawsuit against Green, a decision he may make in the next few weeks. He said the notice he received around Christmas said the Probable Cause Review Board found his allegations didn’t constitute a “material violation of the ethics act upon which the commission could probably act,” and that it went on to state that the Ethics Commission does not enforce the open meetings act or state education statutes.

“Which is really sad because if the ethics committee doesn’t do it, there’s no one in state government that does, except for the courts,” he said.

In his complaint, White alleged that a board member handbook the board approved in October was formed outside of required open meetings, wasn’t properly filed with the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability and contains illegal language. An attachment in support of his complaint also alleged it was illegal for Green to have Kristin Anderson, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, send out a news release that, according to White, “promoted his personal agenda and not that of the Board.”

White had previously taken issue with Green’s letter, publicized by Green in a release Anderson sent to news media, in which Green asked Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to call a meeting for the state School Building Authority’s board to reverse its September decision to not approve Fayette’s consolidation plan. Green said the SBA vote was illegal.

The governor refused to call that meeting. However, the SBA board regardless reversed its decision at its next scheduled meeting in November. But even though it approved the plan — under threat of a lawsuit from the Fayette County Commission — it chose last month to deny funding for it.

White was alone among the nine state school board members in voting against approving the member handbook, and was the only board member to vote against Green being named president. He accused his colleagues then of a “back-room deal.” Board member Tom Campbell wasn’t present for both those votes.

White raised issues with a portion of the handbook that says state school board members serving on other “committees, agencies or authorities by virtue of appointment on behalf of the [state school] Board” should consider abstaining from voting if they cannot support the board’s position before those agencies.

White said he felt the language was in reaction to the SBA board’s original vote to shoot down Fayette’s plan to build a new high school and consolidate four others. The plan had the support of a majority of state school board members and state Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano, but not White. White wasn’t on the SBA at the time of the original vote, but has since become one of the three school board members who are on both boards. Martirano also has a vote on the SBA board.

In December, White didn’t vote to support Fayette’s consolidation plan; in a voice vote among the 11 members, only Martirano and state school board member Tina Combs were heard voting against stopping consideration of the plan for funding. Peter Markham, the SBA board’s chairman and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s designee, votes only in case of a tie. White also took issue in his ethics complaint with part of the handbook regarding $100 daily payments board members can receive when they perform certain duties. The handbook quotes state law that says voting members of the board “shall be paid one hundred dollars per diem each day or any part thereof spent in the performance of their duties under this article.”

The handbook then states: “While the statute provides both for a per diem payment and reimbursement of expenses, the Board believes there are situations where reimbursement of expenses is appropriate while the collection of a per diem by a member is not.”

It then includes among a list of guidelines it says are based on state code, this, regarding the National Association of State Boards of Education: “members will not be eligible to receive per diem payment for traveling to or from meetings or for attendance at NASBE meetings.” White said he attends NASBE meetings, and the provision would discourage him from representing the Mountain State.