District attorney general says school board member did not violate conflict of interest statute

A request filed by Fayette County School Board Chairman Bob Doll to have another member of the board removed from office has been denied by 25th Judicial District Attorney General Michael Dunavant.
Last week, Dunavant called a complaint against School Board member Dana Pittman “frivolous” after an investigation was prompted by recent audit findings and a request from Doll.
“The nature, content and timing of your complaint are suspicious to me,” Dunavant said in a March 10 letter to Doll, “in that the allegations appear to be frivolous and hypertechnical; not supported by the relevant facts or applicable law; and smack of politically motivated retaliation and harassment against Ms. Pittman.
“Such improper use of my office for those purposes is counterproductive to the principles of justice,” he continued, “is a waste of valuable resources, and is not appreciated.”
Last December, Dunavant received the annual county Financial Report and Summary of Audit Findings, which included a finding from the Office of Director of Schools stating that the “School Department violated the conflict of interest statute by contracting for technical services with a school board member.”
The finding stated that Fayette County Schools contracted with Pittman in June 2013 to provide technical services related to the use of Edulog bus routing software. It also stated that the contract named Pittman as the “sole supplier in Fayette County of design, interface and other technical services,” related to the software.
“However,” the audit finding stated, “management was unable to provide us with any documentation supporting the the determination of (Pittman) as a sole source supplier for these services.”
In light of the finding, the Comptroller of the Treasury recommended that school officials review the contract and payments and resolve the conflict of interest.
Director of Schools James Teague said the contract for technical services was not renewed for the 2014-15 fiscal year and West Tennessee Audit Manager Jan Page confirmed that the “conflict of interest violation by the school board and Pittman did not involve any indication or evidence of criminal fraud, waste or abuse.”
On Dec. 17, Dunavant said that Doll asked him to conduct an investigation into allegations that Pittman violated the conflict of interest statute. Dunavant said Doll provided “various letters, documents and other written materials” after Dec. 17 related to Pittman and that Doll requested him to “take action to to either prosecute (Pittman) for the felony criminal offense of official misconduct…or to institute ouster proceedings…in order to remove (Pittman) from public office.”
After conducting his own investigation, Dunavant said he did not find that the allegations or audit findings “rise to the level necessary to justify any action by this office to file any criminal charges or to institute any ouster proceedings.”
“A brief review of the facts and timeline in this matter clearly demonstrates that Ms. Pittman did not in any way violate the letter or spirit of any state statutes,” Dunavant said.
Dunavant said the negative audit finding was prompted by the inability of school officials to provide documentation to auditors supporting the determination of Pittman as a sole source supplier.
Dunavant noted that Pittman, in an attempt to comply with legal requirements related to the contract, sought legal opinion from School Board Attorney Tom Minor in April 2013. Minor offered Pittman legal guidance regarding the meaning of the conflict of interest statute and her obligations regarding being the sole supplier within the county and public acknowledgement of the conflict of interest.
During a June 6, 2013 board meeting, Pittman publicly acknowledged her interest in the Edulog contract and abstained from voting on the related agenda item.
She was awarded the contract by a 6-1-1 vote.
To further determine her role as sole supplier of the services within the county, the Fayette County Board of Education posted a request on its web site for a “project coordinator/software implementation specialist” with three years of Edulog experience. Six applicants responded, none of whom had the required amount of experience.
“Ms. Pittman was in fact the sole supplier of the relevant contract services within Fayette County during the term of the board approved contract,” Dunavant said. “Pursuant to the statute, her indirect interest in the contract was not unlawful.”