Bus company, Trinity reach agreement on conflicts of interest
A Washington bus company and Trinity Area School District came to an agreement Wednesday that will keep three board members employed by a different bus company from weighing in on transportation issues – namely sealed bids slated to be opened today.
Late last month, GG&C Bus Co. filed a lawsuit in Washington County Court against the district and its board, as well as board members Sandra Clutter, Jenene Hupp and William Clemens, alleging that the three ignored conflicts of interest that arose from their employment by an independent bus contractor. The suit also claims state laws and ethics requirements were violated when the three took part in a Nov. 1 vote to decide whether to extend the district’s existing contract with GG&C or seek outside proposals.
The company had requested that the court nullify the vote and grant a preliminary injunction to prevent Clutter, Hupp and Clemens, all former GG&C employees, from participating in transportation matters. GG&C also had sought monetary damages in excess of $100,000.
During a hearing Wednesday before President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca, the district’s attorney, Chris Furman, conceded that a conflict exists, given the board members’ employment situations, and they have since been instructed not to participate. However, he argued that voiding the Nov. 1 vote is not a remedy for a violation of the Ethics Act, nor is it within the court’s authority.
GG&C’s attorney, Richard Kelly of Montgomeryville, called the vote “tainted,” and asked the court for a clear order prohibiting the conflicted board members from participating on transportation matters.
The three had initially abstained from voting on the matter, but were called on to break a tie.
GG&C President John Lenzner, the only witness to take the stand, testified that Clutter, Hupp and Clemens were good employees, but became unhappy with the changes implemented after he purchased the company in 2004 and resigned a few years later. After all three were elected to the board, Lenzner said polices were put in place that interfered with the company’s day-to-day operations, including a rule prohibiting drivers from using interstate highways that caused him “great turmoil.”
Lenzner also testified that he met with the board’s finance and transportation committee before the vote, but was not given the chance to properly discuss the contract extension.
Board President Scott Day said opening the contract was a simply a matter of trying to get the best deal for district and its residents. He explained that the board had recently opened contracts for health care, food service and bond refinancing.
GG&C had been asking for a 10-year extension, which Day said the board wasn’t willing to honor. The current five-year contract pays out $2.8 million annually and is set to expire at the end of June.
“I understand they’ve had that contract for 40 years, but they don’t own it. The taxpayers own it,” Day said.
Board treasurer Colleen Interval said she was appalled when she found out the contract had not been opened for so many years.
“Why should they be awarded it over and over again?” she asked.
Under the settlement agreement reached Wednesday, GG&C offered to withdraw its preliminary injunction request, and the litigation will be stayed for 60 days. The three board members named in the suit will not be permitted to participate, discuss or vote on transportation issues. Additionally, Clutter, Hupp and Clemens will not receive copies of the bids, which are to be opened at a public meeting. The agreement also mandates that legal counsel for both sides will meet prior to the awarding of the bid, which can only be approved by a five-member majority of non-conflicted members.
Day said the board will open four bid packets today at its finance and transportation committee meeting. He said the committee will make a recommendation for the board to vote on at its regular meeting Feb. 21. Since the entire board was not in the courtroom to approve the agreement, Day said they will take up the matter during an executive session next week.