Loveland's Independent News Source
Loveland - October 10, 2012

When District A incumbent candidate for the Thompson Board of Education Jeff Berg says he cares about
District employee benefits; he means it.   Berg's spouse is a Thompson School District R2-J employee
whose health benefits and pay he voted to increase last Spring as member of the Thompson Board of

Board of Education Director candidate Gerald Lauer,  whose wife is a senior district staff director, also  
believes salary and benefits for district employees could be improved and why not?  If elected, Lauer's
wife's boss, the superintendent, will be reporting directly to his board which directs the superintendent.

Imagine a closed door employee evaluation where the superintendent blames his Executive Director for
a mistake and the head of the Thompson School Board feels obligated to respond, "
You said what about
my wife?
"  Or the ongoing problem where Jeff Berg is deciding district negotiation strategy with the  
teacher's union only to go home and tell his wife, a classified employee whose salary and benefits are
linked to what teachers receive, which colleagues are not supporting their request for increased pay or

Many states have specific laws prohibiting employees and their immediate family members from
serving on school boards.  In Colorado, school boards are allowed to create their own rules of conduct
and ethics.  However, state statute generally prohibits all elected officials from performing any official
act that directly or substantially confers an economic benefit to that individual.  For the Thompson
Board of Education, how they define "direct" benefit appears to be their own unique code of ethics.

Current School Board member Bob Kerrigan, who supports former Loveland City Councilor Donna Rice
District A over Jeff Berg, says he is tired of the insider trading when it comes to union negotiations.  
Telling a board member not to have contact with employees during a negotiation  outside the district is
easy unless that person is their spouse.   Adding now the spouse of one of the district's most senior
administrative employees, Gerald Lauer,  to the board can make the elected body appear even less

Ideally, the Board of Education represent the community at-large and not special interest groups within
the district for whom the board has oversight.   According to the "
School Board Candidate Guide," the
board is the voice for the community in the district.

History of Conflicts of Interest and School Boards

In 2004 a study of conflicts of interest on local school boards in Colorado found only four districts in the
largest 38 where someone was related to or an employee was serving on the Board of Education.  The
practice is against the law in more than 30 states and prohibited in many more due to case histories
where courts throughout the 1970's and 1980's found such practices to be in conflict with standard
conflict of interest laws.

In Wyoming, for example, the Wyoming Supreme Court Case majority opinion in Haskins v. State ex rel.
Harrington (1973) determined the positions of teacher and school board member are incompatible by
the same person.  

The court determined that voting on the contract that determines salary, benefits and working
conditions, overseeing and appointing the superintendent and other administrators to which that
individual is accountable is impossible to do with impartiality.  Throughout the late 1970's the same
logic was extended to include spouses of employees who shared the same household and were
indisputably benefiting from the same decisions.

In the State of Illinois, an April 30, 1976 William J. Scott, Attorney General's opinion determined,

"considering then whether the board member has a conflict of interest, I am of the opinion that he
does, and have advised in other contexts that the interest of one's spouse may be attributed to one's
self and be a prohibited interest."

"There is a natural and probable sharing of assets between spouses. This probability of sharing is
sufficient to create a conflict of interest in this situation."
 This ruling was made under Paragraph 3 of
the Illinois Corrupt Practices Act.  In community property states like California, there was no need for a
special court ruling as the conflict of interest is clear and thus prohibited directly in many areas
throughout the state.

Jeff Berg, unlike many of the 1970's conflict of interest cases around the country, does participate in
union negotiations and discussions over teacher pay that not only impact his wife's income but the
health benefits he is eligible to receive as her spouse.  Rather than abstain at least from the most obvious
areas of conflict, Berg is a strong advocate for better pay for his wife and health benefits, apparently, for
himself as well.

Since the candidates who are related to employees are on the self-described "progressive" side of the
political spectrum, maybe they will consider progressing into a place where they at least abstain from
voting themselves benefits while serving on the Thompson Board of Education if elected.
Nepotism Alert:
School Board: A Family Affair
Thompson Board of Education
(in order as they will appear on your ballot)

Board of Education Director
District F - 4 year term
Gerald Lauer
Carl Langner

District A - 2 year term
Kathleen Hatanaka
Jeff Berg, incumbent
Donna Rice (former City Councilor)

District B - 4 year term
Janice Marchman, incumbent
Bryce Carlson

District E - 4 year term
Lori Hvizda Ward
Rocci Bryan