Posted August 2
More controversy surrounding the Omaha Public School board Thursday and it has nothing to do with the superintendent who resigned over racy emails. The Douglas County GOP believes there was a conflict of interest on several votes for the board president.
Recently, the controversy has centered on whether school board president Freddie Gray withheld information from fellow board members over Superintendent Nancy Sebring emails. Sebring eventually resigned.
"We thought it was appropriate for taxpayers to know," said Bruce Dickes, who is hitting her with an ethics complaint on a completely different set of circumstances.
His point: when OPS approval came up to allocate money to non-profits where her husband, Councilman Ben Gray serves on the Board of Directors, she should have abstained from voting. Documents from the GOP highlight dozens of examples where she voted Yes on those issues from 2008 - 2010.
"This is the kind of thing that voters and taxpayers just hate about government - and it's that cozy relationship," said Dickes. "It would be very easy to recuse oneself from these votes and take away any hint of impropriety."
"They have now politicized OPS. Period," said Kris Pierce with the Douglas County democrats. He says Ben Gray was an unpaid volunteer with the boards named in the complaint and did not benefit financially and neither did his wife. "This is dirty politics not to just affect Freddie Gray and her leadership at OPS but also Ben Gray who is on the city council."
In the nearly 40 examples pointed out in the complaint, the issues would have passed the school board with or without Freddie Gray's vote.
So what does Nebraska's ethics law says?
49-1499.03 of the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Act talks about school boards and when you're supposed to notify the state.
It reads, in part: "...official duties that may cause financial benefit or detriment to him or her, a member of his or her immediate family, or a business with which he or she is associated...you're supposed to publicly acknowlede it."
Experts say non-profits are defined as a business in the law.
The county GOP isn't alleging that Ben Gray benefited financially but that the non-profits did and he was on the Board of Directors.
It will take awhile before we know how the state ethics board decides They'll have to investigate and they only meet seven times a year.
Ben Gray who says this complaint isn't about "informing taxpayers but confusing the school board" and that the county GOP is "throwing anything at the wall -- hoping it sticks."
The GOP says it will present the findings at Monday night's school board meeting -- the same one where the board will vote whether to keep Freddie Gray as president.
Posted August 1
While the Omaha School Board prepares to decide whether it needs a new president, former state senator Ernie Chambers is taking it a step further. He believes Freddie Gray should resign.
"When we violate the public trust and break it, it's like Humpty Dumpty falling off the wall -- all the kings horses and all the kings men cannot put it back together again," said Chambers, who is on the Learning Community. "What Freddie did was more than just a mistake."
Dr. Nancy Sebring was supposed to be OPS's new superintendent but resigned soon after intimate emails to a male friend surfaced that she had sent from her Des Moines public school account. It cost her the job in Iowa.
Gray has said she didn't know the extent of the emails and kept the board out of the loop because it was a personnel issue.
Here's what she said Monday morning to her colleagues: "We each make the best decisions we can given the facts that we have. Many a person has said that there is no effort without error. But I believe in this district."
"It would have been better to lay it all out," said Chambers, "Let the board make a decision -- and in view of what happened in Des Moines -- decide whether they wanted to go along with Mrs. Sebring as their superintendent or not. It wasn't for Freddie and this lawyer to play this game that was played."
Freddie Gray has said what she did was based on past practices -- and that other OPS board presidents have taken more formal, serious actions without first consulting the board.
The school board meets Monday at 6:30pm to discuss whether Gray should remain as board president. Ernie Chambers plans to be there.
Chambers is also running for his old legislative seat -- currently occupied by Brenda Council.
We asked her about the OPS board controversy: "No doubt, Mrs. Gray was acting in the best interest of the district." Council added that the board -- in reviewing Gray's leadership -- is just taking an action that is available to them.
Dr. Nancy Sebring was supposed to be OPS's new superintendent but she resigned soon after intimate emails surfaced that she had sent from her Des Moines Public School's account.
When board members learned she had shared some of the controversy before it went public with the Omaha Public School's attorney and board president Freddie Gray -- many were upset they were kept out of the loop.
Board member Nancy Kratky told fellow board members during a special meeting on Monday morning: "The trust from the community is nil where I am concerned."
"Right now, if we were to do a national search, I'm not sure who would apply for this job. We have in-house fighting, now public fighting," said board member Justin Wayne. "We can bicker and fight all we want but at the end of the day, we have to hire an interim superintendent and lay the groundwork for our next superintendent."
While former board president Sandra Jensen addressed her colleagues, some questioned whether what she was saying was germane to the issue.
Freddie gray: "If you will go to the part of your…"
Sandra Jensen: "This was written based on that and if you want to try to muzzle me…"
Gray: "We're not trying to muzzle anyone."
Jensen: "You would not respond to my requests for information."
For close to an hour, some members questioned whether the board's credibility could be restored under the current leadership.
Kersten Borer: "I respect Ms Gray as a person but it would be in the best interest to vote on a new president at this time."
Justin Wayne: "I personally, at this time, do not believe Mrs. Gray can do it. But I’m one person and there’s a bigger issue in hiring a superintendent."
Others felt the board president -- knowing it was a personnel issue with Sebring -- had no other choice than to keep quiet.
Marian Fey: "I do not believe it was the intention of Mrs. Gray to mislead the board."
Mary Morrissey: "Whether people like it or not I believe that Mrs. Gray and Mrs. Eynon-Kokrda were trying to act in the best interest of the board by protecting us from being involved in any future lawsuits."
Mary Ellen Drickey: "This conversation is painful because it’s based on who said what to someone else at a different time and I don’t think this is the appropriate time with the news media present. I think the board should be allowed to have its meeting and try to straighten everything out."
As the board went into executive session -- a member of the public questioned why he wouldn't get the chance to speak. The short answer is it was a special meeting with no action items. The public will get a chance speak at the next board meeting, August 6, at 6:30pm.