We’re not surprised that Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca was taken aback Tuesday when a lawyer for Trinity Area School District asked whether the district might be able to just go ahead and ignore a pesky conflict of interest that exists for three of its board members in a dispute over the Trinity bus contract.
GG&C Bus Co. was forced to go to court a while back to prevent three of its former employees who are now school board members from weighing in on a new bus deal. The company noted the three board members’ conflicts – they now work for other transportation companies – and accused Trinity of violating state laws in its handling of the matter. O’Dell Seneca put the case on hold after GG&C and the district agreed that the three board members could not be involved.
Unfortunately, the remaining Trinity board members failed last week, in a 3-3 vote, to make a decision on what company will provide bus services for district students.
That brought the district back to court Tuesday, and that’s when district attorney Chris Furman suggested to the judge that she invalidate the previous agreement and allow the three conflicted board members to vote on the contract. O’Dell Seneca, not surprisingly, seemed surprised by the request, saying, “You’re asking me to rule on a conflict of interest you all agreed to?”
Ultimately, the judge instructed the parties to report back to her after the board holds a closed-door session on the bus contract before its next meeting.
We would hope the board will recognize that it needs to reach a decision without involving the three disqualified directors. Regardless of what the folks at Trinity might think, ethics and conflicts of interest cannot be chucked aside as an annoyance or inconvenience, simply because the board finds itself in a quandary.