Conflict could snare FRC
The investigation also showed that responsible school officials failed to file the proper conflict-of-interest forms for trustees and administrators for years, a situation that was not rectified until summer 2006.
Burkey has been teaching music classes while an organization she directs, the Chester Community Choir, has maintained a $40,000-a-year contract with the college.
A 2001 opinion by the state attorney general's office concluded, "A board member of a community college district may not become employed as a part-time or substitute instructor for the district." Such an arrangement would, the attorney general said, violate state conflict-of-interest laws.
According to papers obtained by Feather Publishing, Burkey began teaching classes for the Chester Community Choir through the college in the 1999-2000 school year. The nonprofit choir received $39,965 a year for delivering instructional services.
State law requires that elected officials fill out a statement of economic interest, often referred to as a form 700, and file that paperwork with the Fair Political Practices Commission by April 1 of each year.
Copies of Burkey's form 700s from 1999-2005 show that she did not sign them until well after the April 1 deadline each year. The commission did not receive any of the forms until July 25, 2006, when all of them were filed. In them, she declares that she has no reportable economic interests.
Burkey then filled out and signed amended forms for 1999-2005 on Sept. 11, 2006. The commission received them a week later, Sept. 18, 2006.
In the amended forms, Burkey claims an economic interest in the form of salary in an amount between $10,001 and $100,000.
It's not clear how much of the $39,965 went to Burkey each year or whether the choir spent some of the money on other expenses.
According to the 2005 contract, the checks are mailed to the Chester Choir, attention of Jerry Burkey, at an address in Florence, Ore.
It's also unclear if other trustees knew of the agreement. Board policies contain multiple references about the need for board approval before a contract can be entered into or enforced.
But a review of board packets for the years in question failed to turn up any reference to the Chester Choir contract.
The choir has appeared in check registers, often with hundreds of other checks, that accompany each board packet. According to the contract and check registers, the choir receives three checks per year: $7,275 on Aug. 1, $16,345 on Oct. 1 and $16,345 on March 1.
Top administrators Susan Carroll, college president, and Michael Bagley, chief instructional officer, signed the contracts for the college. Burkey also signed the contracts as the "instructor of record."
Board policy identifies the college president as the designated filing officer for the conflict-of-interest paperwork. The president is responsible for making sure the trustees and certain designated administrators fill out their forms on time. Carroll's office is also responsible for forwarding the forms either to the county or to the FPPC.
The county clerk's office reports never having received any forms from the college. Neither had the FPPC until this July.
Form 700s for current trustees and administrators obtained by Feather Publishing show multiple irregularities. Of the dozens of forms examined, not one was signed or filed on time. Only a few made their way to the FPPC before July 25, 2006.
Forms for Chief Instructional Officer Michael Bagley for the years 2002-2006 are all signed and dated Aug. 7, 2006.
In addition, several former administrators, some of whom have not worked for the college for several years, report receiving letters in August from Carroll's office asking them to fill out the forms retroactively.
Such late filings are subject to fines and other penalties from the FPPC.
Faculty and staff awareness of possible conflicts of interest began in June. The college wanted to hire a part-time business instructor. Someone suggested that trustee Bill Elliott, a retired bank president, teach a class.
The suggestion raised concerns with faculty and staff, including Tom Heaney, chair of the division of arts and sciences. While researching the issue, he came upon the attorney general's opinion.
Heaney then circulated an e-mail with a link to the opinion. A staff member involved in the scheduling process pointed out that the college already had a trustee who was teaching, namely Burkey.
In early July, the Chester Choir announced that Burkey was retiring and began advertising for a new director. But as school began, Burkey was still teaching the choir classes.
At their September meeting, the trustees approved a check register that included a $20,000 payment to the Chester Choir dated Aug. 29. Burkey did not recuse herself from the vote.
At the same meeting, a new 10-page conflict-of-interest policy appeared in the board packet in support of an action item titled "Approval of Revised Board Policies." The board approved the existing one-page policy in April 2003.
According to comments made at the meeting, the revision was in response to a letter from the County Counsel's office.
The letter, dated June 1, went out to "local government agencies," requesting that they review their conflict-of-interest codes, amend them if necessary and send copies to the Plumas County Board of Supervisors. The board is the designated body to review all local agencies' conflict codes.
The County Counsel's office issued a second notice Aug. 17.
The college's proposed new code was discussed at a Sept. 19 meeting of the college president's cabinet and appeared on the trustees' agenda two days later.
At the board meeting, trustee John Sheehan asked if the policy had been through the president's cabinet. The cabinet usually blesses policy before it is presented to the board.
Two cabinet members, Rick Stock, president of the academic senate, and Jodi Beynon, president of the classified senate, expressed surprise that the policy was on the trustees' agenda.
"The cabinet did not include this policy on its agenda," said Stock. He said that he did not see a copy of it until he was at the cabinet meeting, and then he was asked to vote on it.
Beynon said that she asked that the policy be tabled so that she had time to show it to staff members.
"We voted four to three to table this," said Stock.
Carroll explained that the trustees were not being asked to approve the revised policy, only a one-page appendix that accompanied the 10-page proposal. The appendix updated job titles for officials who had to submit conflict-of-interest forms. For example, the Dean of Instruction title had been changed to Chief Instructional Officer.
Sheehan said that the college was just responding to the county's letter and called the action "minimal."
"We're just trying to get the county off our rear ends," said trustee Bob Marshall.
"The need for a rush raises flags," Stock replied.
"We've been filing our form 700s for years," said trustee Bill Elliott.
The board then voted unanimously in favor of adopting the amended appendix.
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