District's nepotism policy gets needed strengthening

In most situations, too much information is better than too little.

In that vein, we applaud the Beaufort County school board's changes to its nepotism policy affecting contracts awarded to outside vendors.

The board now requires the superintendent to disclose when close relatives of top district employees are offered jobs with companies hired by the school district.

Before the change, the board was told when immediate family members of the superintendent, executive leadership or principals were recommended for administrative-level or general contracting positions.

The new policy requires the board to be told when immediate family members of the superintendent, chief operational services officer, facilities officer, procurement personnel or any employee initiating a district contract is offered a job with a major service provider or construction vendor.

As we pointed out when this policy change came up earlier this fall, the dollar amounts for the contracts affected by the change are not inconsequential, even in a $175 million operating budget.

The bus transportation contract totals $4.2 million and the building maintenance contract is $2.4 million, according to the district. Two custodial maintenance contracts total $6.1 million and the grounds maintenance contract is $1 million.

This year, the district also hired construction contractors to complete about $33 million in summer renovation projects.

The district's employee manual also will incorporate these changes. The manual will instruct employees who manage or award contracts to report to the superintendent if an immediate family member is offered a job with a current contractor or a contractor who bids on district work.

The district's executive leadership and personnel involved in contracting are to complete an annual statement of economic interest, which must be submitted to the superintendent.

These are not burdensome steps, and when you're on the public payroll and awarding public contracts, you should expect this type of disclosure requirement.

Board member Laura Bush of Bluffton was the only one to vote against the policy change. She said it wasn't clear what the board's obligations were if a conflict is brought to its attention, especially if a contractor already has been recommended for hiring.

Bob Arundell's answer to her was correct. He said the policy change didn't mean a company that hires a relative of a district employee is out of the running on a district contract. But he rightly noted that notification of possible conflicts allows the board to evaluate the situation and make better decisions.

The board cannot do that if it doesn't have the information it needs.