A former Lebanon teacher has filed a complaint with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission about a Lebanon School Board member running for re-election this May.
Jennifer Walter, who taught at Seven Oak Middle School for 12 years before retiring in 2014, said she believes school board member Jerry Williams acted unethically by voting on hiring decisions concerning his daughter, Amanda Plummer, a principal in the district, in 2015 and 2016.
Walter told the Democrat-Herald she didn't know Williams and Plummer were related at the time of the votes. She said she filed her complaint March 29 because Williams is running for re-election and because the Lebanon district has been the target of complaints in recent months, both public and anonymous, from people who have questioned transparency and communication among district officials in relationships and hiring decisions.
"I think that the information that has come out in the last few months has made voters more concerned about wrongdoing," Walter said.
The Oregon Government Ethics Commission confirmed it has received the complaint but the agenda has not yet been determined for its April 21 meeting.
Hiring decisions are made by school district superintendents. But board members are asked for formal approval of personnel changes on consent agendas, which often contain multiple hires.
Williams joined a unanimous vote to hire Plummer as assistant principal at Pioneer School on a June 2015 consent agenda that included 14 total hires. He also joined a unanimous vote to transfer her to Green Acres Elementary School as principal on a May 2016 consent agenda that included 22 hires and transfers.
On both occasions, Walter wrote in her complaint, Williams was, or should have been, aware of the Lebanon Community School District's policy on ethics and nepotism.
That policy, BBFB, states board members "may not appoint, employ, promote, discharge, fire, or demote or advocate for such an employment decision for a relative or member of the household, unless the Board member complies with the conflict of interest requirements" as described by law.
Williams acknowledged the votes but said in both cases, he said he checked beforehand to make sure the vote would be allowed. He said both times, he was told the vote would comply with the "class exception" in ethics laws, which says a public official does not violate nepotism rules if he or she is taking action on an item that affects a class of people, including the spouse or relative, all to the same degree.
Lebanon's nepotism policy also contains the class exception, along with an example of how it might be used. For instance, it states, if a board member’s spouse is a member of the collective bargaining unit, the board member may vote to approve the contract, as it will affect all members of that class to the same degree.
While the consent agendas that included Plummer were made up of multiple personnel decisions, including hires and transfers for other principals, it's not clear whether those decisions constitute a "class."
The Oregon School Boards Association, which puts together template policies for districts such as Lebanon to adopt, said the the state's ethics commission is the agency with the authority to identify a group or class and determine the minimum size required.
According to the Oregon Government Ethics Law's Guide for Public Officials, the number of persons affected to the same degree is used to determine whether this exception applies.
"As far as the application of the class exemption to a particular situation, I would have to defer to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission," said Spencer Lewis, OSBA Member Services attorney and policy specialist. "They have the authority to determine what constitutes a class."
Williams declined to say where he had received the information his vote was covered by the exception, but stressed he believed he was acting ethically.
"I voted because I was told I could do so," he said. "I did check it out before. I know the ethics rule is there. I didn't want to do anything I couldn't do."
Williams also refuted a separate portion of Walter's complaint, which alleged Williams and Plummer share a legal residence. He said he lives with his son and resided only briefly with Plummer during a property sale that did not take place during either of the votes.
He said he's working with an attorney on a formal response to the commission.