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Conflict Charged in Garvey Election

September 24, 1987|SUE AVERY | Times Staff Writer

A Garvey school board member seeking reelection in November has been accused by another candidate of a conflict of interest for voting to approve a special summer program in which the board member's wife was employed.

Anne Cusick, one of nine candidates running for two seats in the Nov. 3 election, said that board member James Smith should have abstained from the July 16 vote.

Smith said this was the third year he had voted to approve the one-month program in which his wife is an instructional aide.

"If I inadvertently voted when I shouldn't have, I've screwed up, but I did it before and nobody made a fuss about it," Smith said. "I would be happy to go back and change my vote or apologize or whatever. This is a political tactic to create doubt in people's minds."

Wife Works as Aide

Smith's wife, Ruth, has worked for the district as an instructional aide for 14 years. She works three hours a day and is paid a monthly salary of $542.25.

For the last four years she has also been one of five aides employed in a special summer program. She worked 45 hours last August and received $396.45.

When Smith was elected to the board in 1983, the district sought an opinion from the county counsel's office, which provides legal services to school districts, on whether he could vote on salary matters that involve his wife.

School Supt. Andrew Viscovich said he was told that there was no conflict of interest if Smith voted on regular salary matters involving non-teaching employes, because his wife had been employed more than a year before he became a board member.

"The question is apparently whether the summer program is special rather than regular employment," Viscovich said.

Law Isn't Clear

Edward Pozorski, an attorney with the county counsel's office, said the law is not clear on procedures involving employment beyond regular hours.

Pozorski said the law prohibits a board member from voting on a regular contract in which the member has a financial interest. If the member's spouse worked for the district, the member would have a financial interest in votes on salaries, Pozorski said. However, the board member can vote on regular salary matters if the spouse had been a district employee for more than a year before the member took office.

The motion to approve the special summer program for children who began school this fall was on the consent agenda of the July 16 meeting. Items on the consent agenda are considered routine and are not usually discussed separately by the board. The board, with one member absent, voted 4 to 0 to approve the consent agenda.

Cusick, who has not run for the board before, said she raised the issue because she thinks that the matter should be resolved. She said she will ask the district attorney to investigate the matter.

The Garvey district serves 7,500 children in kindergarten through the eighth grade in the southern part of Rosemead and portions of San Gabriel, South San Gabriel and Monterey Park.

Only about 1,000 of the 12,000 registered voters generally turn out for school board elections. If the turnout is similar this year, it could take only about 100 votes to win a seat, because of the number of candidates.

In addition to Smith and Cusick, the other candidates are incumbent Bob Miranda, John Nunez, Marti Armstrong, Mike Bender, Elizabeth Diaz, Cathy Barron and Diane Martinez.

Nunez, who lost his bid for reelection two years ago after he was accused of wrongdoing by Miranda, said he is sorry that Smith's vote is being questioned.

"Because the issue was on the consent agenda, maybe he overlooked it," Nunez said.

During the campaign two years ago, Miranda accused Nunez of possible improper use of a credit card issued by the district.

Nunez said the accusation contributed to his defeat. In an opinion issued after the election, the district attorney cleared Nunez of any wrongdoing.

Miranda defended his complaint against Nunez, saying that he could not get answers to questions about whom Nunez took to lunch and for what purpose. Nunez said that on one occasion he was the host, at the request of the superintendent, a luncheon for parents, and that he sometimes took other board members to lunch.

Miranda, who has served on the board for four years, said he was dealing with issues, not personalities, when he questioned Nunez's use of his credit card. "It depends on your definition of personalities. Anything is fair game as long as it has to do with the Garvey school district."

He also said he had talked to Cusick about her complaint against Smith and is trying to determine whether Smith's vote was illegal.

"I don't think Jim did anything intentionally," Miranda said. "He just blew it."

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