The hiring of Brownwood school board member Eric Evans' niece as a teacher's aide was "an oversight that we corrected immediately," Brownwood school Superintendent Dr. Reece Blincoe said Tuesday.
Stan Walker, who finished second behind Evans in the race for Place 4 on the school board in the Nov. 6 election, said earlier that the hiring of Evans' niece was a violation of nepotism laws. Evans' niece has since resigned from her job at Northwest Elementary School.
Walker raised the issue in an earlier email to Blincoe, and Blincoe responded to Walker via email: " Ö After receiving your e-mail I contacted our attorneys to verify our policy. The policy is very difficult to read and understand, and actually, at first, the attorneys told us we were within the policy and law. But upon further investigation into the fact that at the last census we passed a county population of 35,000, we can not employee a niece of a board member. This will be resolved immediately, with my understanding being that she will resign.
"As far as repercussions from us hiring her ó there are none. Our attorneys looked into this as well and found an Attorney General ruling that said there is no fine or reprimand, it just has to be fixed immediately, which it will."
Blincoe issued the following statement Tuesday:
Brownwood ISD has policies in place, which we strictly follow, dealing with nepotism in the workplace. The policies we follow, though, are difficult at best in interpreting, even as noted in by Attorney General Opinion No. GA-0794, which was issued in response to the confusing nature of the provision.
"Recent allegations were made against a board member about violating district policy regarding the hiring of a relative. No board member has violated any policy regarding the districtís nepotism policy; however, the degree of their relationship did result in the employee being ineligible for employment with Brownwood ISD.
"With this said, Brownwood ISD did not intentionally violate its nepotism policy, but immediately rectified the situation as soon as it was brought to our administrationís attention of the ineligible hiring a board memberís relative. Under 11.1513(g) of the Texas Education Code, a superintendent may hire a board memberís relative if the school board has delegated to him the final authority to select district personnel and the district is located in a county with a population of less than 35,000. The Attorney Generalís opinion explains that this practice is prohibited under 11.1513(f) because each member of the board remains subject to Chapter 573 despite the delegation in districts located in counties with populations of at least 35,000.
"Citing the 'lack of clarity in these provisions,' the Attorney General refrained from concluding that a superintendent to whom final selection of personnel is delegated could be subject to the penalties imposed by Chapter 573 for hiring a board memberís relative. Similarly, the Attorney General refrained from concluding that the penalties would apply to board members who had delegated final selection of personnel to the superintendent and did not appoint, confirm or vote for the appointment or confirmation of as individual who was prohibited from being employed by the district. This is the exact case in this recent account, in the fact that the accused board member did not appoint, confirm, or vote for the related persons hiring.
"This oversight has helped Brownwood ISD revise some operating procedures so that the nepotism policies will not be violated in the future. The human resources department will continue to screen every application of 'at-will' employees to check for possible relationships to board members and assure that they are not considered for employment. When this violation of the board policy was brought to the attention of the Superintendent, it was quickly remediated by the immediate resignation of the employee."
After Monday night's school board meeting, Evans addressed the issue, saying his niece has resigned but will continue working as substitute teacher, which, he said, is permissible under nepotism laws. "She and I talked about this," Evans said. "She loves her kids, and she was loved by the faculty at Northwest.
"We are a spiritual family and so we really looked at all of the ramifications and the impact that we feel as though we can make and where we make that, and she felt very confident that I made a strong impact where I am on the school board.Ē
In another matter involving Evans, who was sworn in Monday night with new board members Brad Jetton and Diane Thompson, Evans will be sworn in again in a specially called meeting of the school board at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
When the three were sworn in Monday night, the votes from the Nov. 6 election had not been canvassed. It is not necessary to swear in Jetton and Thompson again because they were not contested and not even on the ballot, Blincoe said.