Beaufort News

Nepotism policy update would prohibit hiring superintendent’s family members

Superintendent Jeff Moss, left, sits next to district attorney Drew Davis during a Beaufort County school board meeting June 16, 2016.
Superintendent Jeff Moss, left, sits next to district attorney Drew Davis during a Beaufort County school board meeting June 16, 2016.

A superintendent’s immediate family members would not be allowed to work for the Beaufort County School District under a revised conflicts of interest policy that received preliminary school board approval Tuesday night.

That draft policy, approved by the Beaufort County school board on a second reading at Tuesday’s meeting, includes the provision, “No member of the Superintendent’s immediate family shall be eligible for employment within or as a contractor to the BCSD in any capacity.”

The change comes days after Superintendent Jeff Moss admitted to ethical violations related to hiring his wife last September, and despite the fact that the board said Friday it would not do anything about the violations. On Tuesday, there was no board discussion about the change, which is part of a comprehensive update to the board’s policy manual completed over the last seven months by an ad hoc school board committee.

Board chair Mary Cordray moved to add the language to the policy at the new manual’s first reading, Saturday’s work session.

Just three days earlier, Moss admitted to two ethics violations relating to hiring his wife to a district-level director’s job last September. But that didn’t prompt Cordray to change the policy — the two-day work session had already been scheduled and the policy manual finished.

“This seemed the appropriate time to do it,” Cordray said of the addition, which was approved by a majority Saturday. “I supported it before (the ethics commission’s decision), and I still support it.”

In discussions about the district’s nepotism rule last year, Cordray was one of several board members to suggest prohibiting the hiring of superintendents’ immediate family members. She also suggested tamer language that would prohibit family members of the superintendent from reporting directly to any of the district’s senior staff members, such as the heads of instructional services or human resources.

None of that made it into the final policy approved Feb. 2, which allowed the hiring of the superintendent’s relatives as long as they were not directly supervised by the district leader.

The South Carolina Ethics Commission said last week it would not pursue an ethics charge against Moss for changing his staff ethics rule but that it carried the appearance of impropriety. That decision was part of a plea deal in which Moss admitted to “inadvertently and unintentionally” committing two other violations. Moss also must pay $3,000 in fines and fees and was publicly reprimanded by the commission.

David Striebinger, who chaired the ad hoc committee, said after Tuesday’s meeting that the timing of revising the conflict of interest policy was “illogical.” At Friday’s work session, Cordray read a statement that the board would take no further action in response to Moss’ ethics violations.

“Certainly, somebody could look at that and say, ‘Geez, closing the barn door now? There’s no cows left,’ ” Striebinger said. “... I think the explanation was, they’re trying to make it quite clear to future superintendents so they wouldn’t make a potential mistake.”

The ad hoc committee formed just a few days after the board approved its nepotism policy, amidst accusations that the body was marked by dysfunction and guided by confusing and outdated rules in its “Board Commitments and Responsibilities” manual.

The committee’s main goal was to align the board’s policies with the National School Board Association.

“This was a monumental task,” board member JoAnn Orischak said Tuesday after thanking Striebinger and the rest of the committee. “Since I came onto the board in 2012, we’ve been talking about revising and revisiting all of these policies, and we’re almost there.”

The draft will receive a third reading at the board’s next meeting.

Rebecca Lurye: 843-706-8155, @IPBG_Rebecca