Members of the Lincoln County Board of Education acted unanimously Wednesday to censure outgoing board member Tommy Houser over his activities during his recent failed bid for re-election.
Prior to their vote, the board received sharply worded comments from Denver resident Jerry Haney, who warned about the importance of ethics in light of the allegations against Houser and other board members.
Haney said the current board needed to make things right before the three new members are sworn in next month. He looked the members in the eyes as he spoke of the recent election and with nearly half of the School Board being replaced with new faces, Haney stressed the importance of taking responsibility for wrongdoings and setting the record straight, as the group met for the last time together as a board.
“Don’t you think it’s about time to take responsibility and make clear and concise policies void of loopholes, gray areas and wiggle room to keep fellow board members in line?” Haney asked the group.
“While it makes you look foolish and arrogant to stick to your guns, make excuses and pretend you did nothing wrong, it also makes the county you claim to serve and the citizens who elected you to look a little foolish.”
The board greeted his comments with silence.
Following the vote to censure Houser, who was absent despite being offered a chance to defend himself, board member Bob Silver congratulated his fellow board members for making the moves not to “sit lame to the offenses committed” in violation of School Board Code of Ethics Policy 2120.
Houser was accused of, and has admitted to sending political mailings to the home addresses of Lincoln County Schools employees recently. The board found that was a breach of ethics policy and state legal experts have said the matter could constitute a misdemeanor under state law.
Because Houser has not spoken publicly about the incident since the board threatened to censure him in late October, it’s not clear whether he had assistance in using a computer to access and print the addresses for a mass mailing, which would potentially make anyone who helped him responsible for a violation of state law, since the addresses are protected as confidential records.
Houser had until Wednesday night to get back to School Board attorney David Black, which he chose not to do.
“We have to have integrity, and to do that we have to monitor each other,” Board Vice-Chair Candy Burgin told the Times-News after Wednesday’s meeting. “We’re accountable to the taxpayers and have to look at every issue at hand, as hard as it is. I hate it for Mr. Houser, but I would expect the same done to me if I had done something wrong, for the board to say ‘Hey, this is not what we’re about.’ “
While sending a message, the act of censure is primarily symbolic and would not have affected Houser’s ability to serve had he been re-elected.
Houser lost his bid for re-election last week to Cathy Davis. She will join other newly elected members Tony Jenkins and Mark Mullen, along with re-elected member Ed Hatley, in being sworn in next month.
Other members departing include George Dellinger and Kelly Childers, who chose not to stand for re-election.
Besides Hatley, the other returning members of the board are all first-term members who have two years remaining in their terms – Burgin, Silver and Clayton Mullis.
In other board action on Wednesday:
The board split on whether to approve the floor plan and site rendering to move forward with the Asbury Alternative School project — a decision that was opposed by both Burgin and Mullis.
Mullis has wavered on the issue and was originally against spending the money to renovate the school, but voted last month to proceed. This week he changed his mind and cast a dissenting vote. Burgin has been fairly quiet on the issue, and voted against for the first time since the $1.9 million project was put on the table of the Board of Education Building Site Committee earlier this year.
“The kids do need a nice, safe place to be at school, and they deserve that,” Burgin said. “I just want to make sure we’ve examined all the options and we get the best for what we’re paying for — the most for the money — instead of rushing through it.”
The majority voted in favor, and work on Asbury will be starting soon, while no date has been firmly discussed just yet.
Additions such as a science lab, a classroom for Exceptional Children and a 14,000-square-foot building to replace mobile units are among the plans Superintendent Sherry Hoyle and three focus groups decided on during their meetings over the summer.
Board member George Dellinger was looking to get the ball moving this week on a project that would create a new elementary school in Lincoln County. Executive Director of Facilities Darrell Gettys discussed where he was on the planning end of the project so far. Land was purchased off Highway 73, that some officials were hoping could be used to construct an additional institution, that would look similar to Norris Childers Elementary. Though Gettys and his team have touched based with the Department of Transportation to ensure parking lots and other roadway access points where within regulations, and had been working with the county to set up sewer and water capabilities at the site, only Dellinger and Kelly Childers voted in favor of moving forward and the motion failed.
Silver argued that it wasn’t the right time financially to make such a move, and that the numbers of students isn’t there to justify adding another establishment to the county, yet.
Starting at 6 p.m. on Monday, the Curriculum Committee will meet, followed by Policy and Budget and Finance committees.