Legal loopholes complicate R2 code

BLYTHEWOOD – It’s being billed as a way to simplify the school district’s procurement code.

But loopholes in state law could pose legal and ethical complications to the Richland 2 school procurement policy.

Approved at its July 24 meet­ing, the Richland 2 Board of Education voted to strike a se­ries of policy revisions, includ­ing one that prohibited the dis­trict from doing business with board members.

“No purchase of materials or services shall be made from any member of the Board,” the stricken measure states.

Dr. Harry Miley, the district’s chief financial officer, said via email that the probation al­ready exists elsewhere in the board’s policy. He also said the district follows state law.

“A board member may not provide services or sell prod­ucts to the district or to in­dividual schools,” the policy states.

“We are undertaking a com­prehensive review and update of all of our policies with par­ticular attention to trying to eliminate places where the same topic is addressed in mul­tiple policies,” Miley said. “We are also undertaking a review of our procurement code to see if there are revisions needed.”

State law, however, appears to provide an escape route for public bodies whose elected members could potentially be awarded contracts.

The law states that: “A public official, public member, or pub­lic employee may not have an economic interest in a contract with the State or its political subdivisions if the public offi­cial, public member, or public employee is authorized to per­form an official function relat­ing to the contract.”

“Official function” is defined in the law as “writing or pre­paring the contract specifi­cations, acceptance of bids, award of the contract, or other action on the preparation or award of the contract.”

Similar verbiage appears on the State Ethics Commission website. But the law was revised in 1995, with an amendment that appears to allow elected officials to bid on contracts if they don’t participate in awarding the contract.

“Nor does it [the law] prohibit the award of contracts awarded through a process of public notice and competi­tive bids if the public official, public member, or public employee has not performed an official function regarding the contract,” the amendment states.

On July 24, Richland 2 board members voted unanimously to approve the revised purchasing policy. There was no discussion of the policy change prior to the vote.

Miley said during the June 26 board meeting that the changes were made merely to simplify the district’s pro­curement code.

“We think the policy should be very simple,” he said. “We have a procurement code. We think the policy should state that we adhere to the procure­ment code.”

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