Judge tosses out Trinity board vote

Directors said to have violated court order on bus deal

May 1, 2013
Students walk to their buses Wednesday at Trinity High School. Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca on Wednesday overturned the school district’s decision to award a transportation contract to First Student. - Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

A Washington County judge tossed out an April 1 vote by Trinity Area School Board that awarded an $8.86 million transportation contract to First Student Inc.

President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca ruled Tuesday that school board members Sandra Clutter and Jenene Hupp violated a court agreement that they would not vote to award a transportation contract because of potential conflicts of interest.

O’Dell Seneca wrote, “Defendants Sandra Clutter and Jenene Clutter are not only conflicted with regard to transportation matters at Trinity, but the evidence before this court establishes unequivocally that these defendants cast votes on April 1, 2013, in direct contravention of this court’s order. Thus, these votes are a nullity.”

Clutter and Hupp are former employees of GG&C Bus Co. of Washington, the school district’s current transportation company.

GG&C, which shares Trinity routes with Schweinebraten Bus Co., sued the district in December to prevent the women and a third director, Henry Clemens, from voting on the contract, resulting in the Jan. 30 settlement signed by O’Dell Seneca. The two women then voted with a board majority April 1 to award the busing contract to First Student of Ohio, while Clemens abstained. The contract would not have been approved without their votes.

The judge wrote, “Whereas here a political subdivision has acted in a way demonstrating a clear abuse of discretion, or acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner, or in a way violative of the law, the judiciary of the Commonwealth is empowered to intervene.”

She said the Jan. 30 court order remains in effect.

GG&C’s attorney, Richard C. Kelly, said he believes the judge’s ruling was appropriate.

“The order speaks for itself,” said Kelly, who declined further comment.

O’Dell Seneca’s ruling essentially puts the school board back where was before the April 1 vote, with no contract being awarded.

Andrews and Price LLC of Pittsburgh was appointed by the school district’s insurance carrier April 22 to handle litigation involving Trinity and GG&C. Tony Sanchez, an attorney for the firm, last week advised directors not to discuss any transportation issues.

Attorney Chris Furman, who had represented the school board regarding the GG&C litigation until that point, declined comment.

Karen Mansfield is an award-winning journalist and mom of five who has been a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter since 1988. She enjoys reading, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a good glass of wine and nice people.

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