Editorials

School board fails public on Moss nepotism

Beaufort County Board of Education: seated from left, JoAnn Orischak, Laura Bush, chairman Mary Cordray, Evva Anderson and Geri Kinton. Standing, Michael Rivers, Earl Campbell, Joseph Dunkle, David Striebinger, Paul Roth and Bill Payne.
Beaufort County Board of Education: seated from left, JoAnn Orischak, Laura Bush, chairman Mary Cordray, Evva Anderson and Geri Kinton. Standing, Michael Rivers, Earl Campbell, Joseph Dunkle, David Striebinger, Paul Roth and Bill Payne. Beaufort County School District photo

The Beaufort County Board of Education has let the people down on the superintendent’s nepotism problem.

That is the primary take-away from the State Ethics Commission’s settlement this week with Superintendent Jeff Moss.

The commission did what it was supposed to do.

It got complaints from two local citizens who saw conflicts of interest in the actions of Moss when it became public that his wife was hired twice by the district. The commission investigated, stated its case for three ethics violations, and gave Moss the chance to answer the charges in a hearing.

Moss, however, reached a settlement prior to the hearing. The results were announced this week. Moss acknowledged guilt on two of the allegations, was publicly reprimanded and ordered to pay a $2,500 fine and $500 administrative fee.

As part of the deal, his guilt was described as “inadvertent and unintentional.” And the commission agreed not to pursue its third charge, which stemmed from the administrative nepotism rule he altered last summer before his wife was hired to a newly-created, $90,000 job in the central office.

Now we know, thanks to the state, that there were indeed problems with what Moss did, and it could not go unpunished.

The state action shows how dismally our local school board has acted in response to this blow to the district’s credibility. It has done nothing of substance. It even made matters worse for future boards by refusing to reinstate a clear anti-nepotism policy that prevented a family member of the superintendent from taking a job in the district office.

The board’s immediate reaction was to circle the wagons, hide behind closed doors and find new ways to limit public input at board meetings.

And this week we have seen a barrage of lawyer-ese on technicalities, including a discussion of how a comma could negate the plain truth in an anti-nepotism policy. The intent of the policy was obvious before Moss removed it. It was there because all institutions of any merit guard against nepotism because it kills morale and credibility.

Beaufort County’s school board needs to rise up and acknowledge that what Moss did was wrong.

Moss created a position to which his wife was hired, and expected everyone else to believe that she could freely be supervised by one of his right hands in the top level of administration. That’s wrong.

We were told the panel that vetted applicants for the new job could do so without feeling any pressure regarding the applicant who, by the way, was the boss’s wife. That’s wrong.

It was instructive to compare the Moss case before the State Ethics Commission with the case of a former president of Winthrop University, whose husband was hired to a nice job with the Rock Hill school. The former university president also was fined and reprimanded. The major difference in the two cases is that the Winthrop board got rid of its problem. It fired the president for a greater good: the university’s standing in the eyes of a world that is not nearly as gullible as the nepotism gang thinks. But the Beaufort County school board is content to make no substantive changes and allow its credibility to swirl down the drain.

All of this is wrong. It doesn’t pass the smell test. It doesn’t pass the common-sense test. It has rendered the top educator in Beaufort County unbelievable. And we all know who that will hurt: the students.

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