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October 21, 2014

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ELECTION 2008 :

Ethics rulings suggest teacher can’t sit on board

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Leila Navidi

Teacher Ron Taylor is running for the School Board, but if he wins, he may be forced to give choose between his office and his job.

Ron Taylor believes 20 years in Clark County classrooms best qualify him for a seat on the School Board. But court and Ethics Commission rulings suggest that, if he’s elected, Taylor’s teaching job might disqualify him from serving on the board that oversees his employer.

“The intent of the Nevada Constitution is not that I have to give up my livelihood in order to serve,” Taylor said, arguing that from the Legislature to city councils, the state has fostered a government by “citizen legislators.”

Taylor faces longtime school volunteer Chris Garvey in the race for the School Board’s District B seat. (The incumbent, Ruth Johnson, was forced from the race after the state Supreme Court ruled that term limits prohibit her from seeking reelection.)

Other district employees running for the School Board include Associate Superintendent Edward Goldman in District A and administrator Linda Young in District C. Goldman and Young have said they will retire if elected.

Ronan Mathew, who retired this summer as principal of Canyon Springs High School, is also seeking the District C seat.

To bolster his case, Taylor cites the political service of Howard Rosenberg, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a member of the Board of Regents, which governs the state’s higher education system.

The state attorney general’s office in 1996 issued an opinion that Rosenberg could serve on the board without quitting his job. The state Ethics Commission, in a decision the following year, agreed.

But Mary Anne Miller — the Clark County School Board’s counsel who investigated the issue because of the number of school employees running for the School Board — doubts Rosenberg’s situation is relevant. A state statute cited by the attorney general in the 1996 opinion was written specifically for the Board of Regents and doesn’t apply to school boards.

“It’s not really relevant to our situation,” said Miller, who is assigned to the School Board by the Clark County district attorney’s office.

According to Miller and Matt Griffin, deputy secretary of state for elections, the opinions that are relevant to the question of teachers serving on school boards include:

• A 2001 Douglas County District Court ruling that Nevada teachers couldn’t serve on a school board in the district in which they are employed. “It would make you the boss of your boss. You can’t serve two masters,” Judge Michael Gibbons said at the time.

• A 2002 Nevada Ethics Commission decision that a member of a state board could not also work for a department governed by that board. The commission concluded ethics law addresses “situations involving public officers and public employees that create appearances of impropriety and conflict of interest as well as actual impropriety and conflicts.”

The Ethics commission would have to address any challenge to a School District employee’s campaign for School Board, Miller and Griffin said.

If elected, Taylor said, he is prepared to pursue his fight to take office all the way to the state Supreme Court. He has a reputation as a fighter — Taylor has been locked for years in a bitter battle with the Clark County Education Association, alleging the teachers union improperly yanked his membership.

“Teachers understand what’s going on in a classroom,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you want their expertise?”

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