Manteca Unified School District trustee Wendy King has a “remote conflict of interest as a paid executive director of MUST,” the district’s legal counsel James Scot Yarnell said during Tuesday’s board meeting.
Yarnell also said that conflict, which occurred at a previous meeting of the board when King failed to state the reason for recusing herself from an agenda item discussion because of her work with the Manteca Unified Student Trust (MUST) can be “negated” by bringing that discussion item back before the board in order to rectify her prior action as well as to have a record of that conflict in the minutes of the meeting.
However, that clarification did not satisfy Trustee Nancy Teicheira who, along with fellow trustee Don Scholl, raised the questions about the “appearance of impropriety” on the part of King.
“No, I was not satisfied,” Teicheira said after the meeting. “He (Yarnell) never answered a lot of our questions. He is just giving what the district wants to hear, in my opinion.”
At the end of the lengthy discussion, the board approved the motion 6-0 (minus King) made by Teicheira and seconded by Scholl directing the president of the board, Michael Seelye, to file a complaint to the office of the state Attorney General and the Fair Political Practices Commission on behalf of the board.
Scholl, though, commented after the vote that King “does a tremendous work for MUST.”
According to information brought up during the long discussion over King’s alleged conflict of interest, King abstained during the vote at that previous meeting but failed to identify the conflict of interest. The agenda item was about Manteca Unified’s contributions to MUST.
At Tuesday’s meeting, King was advised to recuse herself from the discussion and to state the reason for doing so before leaving the board room.
Most of the questions directed to Yarnell were made by Trustees Teichaira and Scholl who raised the allegations of apparent conflict of interest on the part of King. Teicheira said she and Scholl learned only last week that King was not a volunteer director of MUST but was being paid a salary of $5,000 a quarter or $20,000 a year.
MUST is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization established as a way to fund student programs in the district such as after-school sports that otherwise would not exist due to dire budget cuts. According to MUST’s official web site, the foundation “exists to support and promote the healthy life-long learning of students.”
Teicheira and Scholl wanted to know: If a board member is appointed by the Board of Trustees to sit on the MUST board, how is it possible for them to become a paid executive director (referring to King) of the foundation without giving that critical information to the district’s Board of Trustees? And would that paid staff still be able to represent the board to MUST?
The following was the written response from the district attorney, who received the questions in advance – among other questions – from Superintendent Jason Messer before the board meeting.
In his response to the question, Yarnell stated: “According to the MUST Bylaws, it does not appear the MUSD Board of Trustees is entitled to appoint one of its members to sit on the MUST (board of directors)…. Any MUSD Board member serving as an officer or employee of MUST is required to disclose that relationship and refrain from participating in any financial decision affecting the MUST.”
Manteca resident Karen Pearsall commented during the discussion that she was “sad and troubled” about King’s volunteer position with MUST becoming a paid job.
“Did the board know that she was no longer representing MUSD?” she asked.
“I’m not saying she doesn’t deserve to be paid,” she added, but that she wanted to know how this happened.
Trustee Manuel Medeiros said that “if we had transparency in the past, we wouldn’t be talking about it today. If this was done right from day one, we wouldn’t be discussing it today,” he said.