When House Bill No. 448 was introduced to the Missouri House of Representatives by Rep. Jay Houghton (District 43-R), it didn’t take long for current Wellsville-Middletown Superintendent Pete Nasir to feel as if the proposed legislation could be re-named after him.
The new section called 162.018 notes that “any person employed by a school district in this state as the district’s superintendent shall not be a candidate for a member or director of any school board in any school district in this state.”
After all, the administrator is also serving as a school board member with the Van-Far R-I School District.
“As far as I can determine, this bill is directed at the activities of exactly one person in the state; me,” Superintendent Nasir said. “Since I know how I operate and how I behave, I was curious as to what issue motivated Representative Houghton to propose this bill. I have, on two separate occasions (January 9, 2017 and again on January 17, 2017) contacted Mr. Houghton’s office by email to inquire as to the motive or reason behind his proposing this bill. Though I have had many successful interactions with Mr. Houghton’s office in the past, to date I have received no contact from him or anyone in his office concerning this issue. He is, of course, under no legal obligation to inform me or anyone else as to why he does what he does.”
His curiosity grew after Rep. Houghton was quoted in a January 25 article written by the Springfield News-Leader.
In it, the article alleged that “multiple conconstituents have raised concerns that Nasir’s double duty presented a conflict of interest.”
“While not doubting that it may be true that some of Rep. Houghton’s constituents expressed such a concern, I do find it interesting that he has chosen to expend the considerable state resources it takes to introduce and pass a state-wide law because of un-investigated and unsubstantiated concerns of just one of Missouri’s six million-plus citizens, instead of taking these concerns to the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) who duties include the investigation of any claims of conflict of interest on the part of public officials,” Superintendent Nasir noted.
He also referenced the MCE’s link for duties, which is http://www.mec.mo.gov/WebDocs/PDF/Misc/Meet_the_Commission_Jan_2014.pdf.
He noted that he has currently served as an administrator for 11 1/2 years in one district while being an unpaid, duly elected school board member for 11 years at another district.
“These are two totally different and unrelated school districts,” Superintendent Nasir said. “As an administrator (principal and superintendent), I am interviewed, vetted, hired, and evaluated by a duly elected board of eligible citizens of the district for which I work. As a board member, I am a legal citizen and resident in good standing (I don’t owe any taxes and haven’t committed any felonies) who has exercised his constitutional rights to participate in the democratic process of running for and being elected to a local public office. And for those of you that don’t know, being a school board member is an un-paid elected office. There is no practical connection between the two jobs or the two school districts. I cannot do anything to the benefit of one district that is detrimental to the other. I certainly can’t advance my own or my family’s personal gain at the expense of the other district. As a superintendent, my actions and quality of performance are regulated and evaluated by a locally elected seven member school board that has no connection to the board on which I sit. As a board member, I am only one of seven votes on any issue and if the job I do displeases the citizens that I represent, then they will not re-elect me.”
He also said that though the measure only appears to affected one person directly, the bill ultimately affects every voter as it reportedly limits the electoral rights of local citizens to determine who should represent them on their local school board and other boards.
It is noted that an argument could be made that under the same focus, board members working in any supervisory or ownership capacity for virtually any company in the state could create a conflict of interest by being elected to a paid seat in the Missouri General Assembly, which has an influence on all commercial and governmental activities in the state.
Superintendent Nasir added that he thought Rep. Houghton’s effort to limit local communities’ choices for local candidates is opposite of the Republican focus of less big government intrusion in the lives of Missouri citizens.
While referencing Superintendent Nasir’s concerns, Rep. Houghton did issue an official statement on his proposed bill on Monday.
“I filed House Bill No. 448 in an effort to stop a serious conflict of interest,” Rep. Houghton said in a prepared statement. “This bill is not meant as an attack on anyone in particular, and currently serving members that might be impacted are grandfathered in, meaning they get to finish out their current term. There have been instances when schools are impacted differently by legislation, such as in finding solutions for school funding, where some schools in the central Missouri area would have a positive benefit, while another school will suffer. It is my understanding that because of these potential conflicts, the Missouri School Boards Association has policy that seriously discourages administrators from serving on school boards because, like a member of the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education said when he heard this bill, ‘This is like being the Governor of Illinois and a state legislator in Missouri. It’s a conflict.’”
In addition, Rep. Houghton’s office received an official statement from a Missouri School Boards Association governmental relations person:
“Through conversations with the Missouri School Boards Association’s leaders, they clearly see this as an issue and are currently establishing policy that strongly discourages this,” they said.