The Beaufort County Board of Education has taken a problem in need of a simple, obvious solution and instead offered a response that thumbs its nose at citizens and condones the very behavior the public has demanded be stopped.
In a 6-4 vote earlier this month, the board approved a long-awaited nepotism policy that places no restrictions on the hiring of a superintendent’s family members.
The vote brings to an end a community debate on the actions of Superintendent Jeff Moss, who deleted part of the district’s nepotism rule and approved the hiring of his wife, Darlene Moss, to a newly-created $90,000 job in the district office as director of innovation.
Once the hiring was revealed to the public and the school board in this newspaper last September, the public’s response was swift and clear. In emails and phone calls to board members, in school board meetings and in letters to the editor, community members expressed outrage over Moss’s actions and demanded that the school board make changes so that this would never happen again.
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School board chairman Bill Evans stepped down over the controversy, and Darlene Moss resigned from her new job. And the board promised to craft a nepotism policy to address the situation.
But in the months since, the school board has fumbled and bumbled around. Meetings have been disorganized. School board members have seemed unsure of basic school board meeting procedures. School board attorney Drew Davis and Jeff Moss himself have interjected themselves into board discussion, trying to help the group to figure out just how to do its job and address the problem.
Old restrictions on public input at board meetings were dusted off and brought front-and-center, sending a strong signal that no questions or critiques were welcome. Instead of reassuring the public, the board and Moss further eroded community confidence.
Most disturbing is the resulting policy that ignores the community’s repeated calls for a higher level of accountability, for more transparency and for the board to do its job and fully oversee its one employee — Jeff Moss. In fact, the new policy is less stringent than previous standards regarding conflicts of interest. As one community member recently pointed out, the board’s focus is damage control and “saving face” rather than acknowledging that an inappropriate hire was made on its watch.
So what’s the the board’s reason for its inept new policy? A majority say it’s unfair to impose a different rule on the superintendent than other district employees. This is ridiculous. As members JoAnn Orischak and Michael Rivers pointed out, superintendents yield greater influence than any other district employee. That includes hiring decisions. The very nature of the job requires stricter rules to prevent misuse of power.
If there is a silver lining, it is that board members Orischak, Rivers and Joseph Dunkle stood strong for ethics. We thank them for their citizen-focused leadership. New board member David Striebinger is likely to join their ranks, creating an even more vocal — albeit still a minority — subgroup on the board.
November’s elections may add additional members to their group. It is our hope that community members will continue their fight for better leadership and show up at the polls to vote for it.