- The Washington Times - Monday, January 22, 2001

Prince George County's, Md., school board members should have their expense accounts audited monthly for the next six months, the school system's ethics panel will recommend next month.
The panel criticized board members for treating their $12,594 expense allotment as "entitlements."
The six-member ethics panel was charged with reviewing expense account abuses and providing recommendations following a damaging report of abuses by private auditor Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio and Associates, hired by the board last summer.
Besides recommending monthly audits, the panel suggested instituting a "fairness" doctrine that would forbid board members from giving expense money to favored schools, clubs or students. It also recommends more stringent reporting requirements for mileage reimbursements.
Sources said board members weren't pleased and asked the panel for revisions. The panel declined to do so.
The long-awaited report by the ethics panel outsiders appointed by the school board was shared with three members of the school board's in-house ethics committee last week. Its contents were not made public.
Board Chairman Ken Johnson, a member of the ethics committee, confirmed the meeting took place, but declined to discuss its details. He said the final report should be less damaging than an audit released in September examining the expense accounts. The report will be presented to the board Feb. 8.
A school source said the ethics panel told board members there "needs to be some kind of monitoring setup for a limited duration."
That could include external or internal audits, or making expense account documents available to the public, the source said.
The ethics panel, revived after accusations of board misspending surfaced last spring, is turning out to have sharper teeth than many initially thought.
Some board members interviewed said they were pleased with the recommendations.
"I think monthly examinations are a great idea," said District 5 board member Robert Callahan. "The public should be able to trust that their board members are fiscally responsible."
One school official added privately: "The recommendations are a final indictment that the board had their hand in the cookie jar."
Board member Jim Henderson, also a member of the ethics committee, declined to discuss the meeting but said the panel was not a rubber stamp of the board as some had worried it might be.
"They are very much their own people and have teeth," he said. "When the board doesn't like something, the panel doesn't back down."
Mr. Johnson said, "Everything they are reporting on happened before we tightened the rules and developed new, stricter procedures," he said. "We have since improved how we handle these accounts."
Members of the panel which includes a former school board member, a businessman, a minister and lawyer were unavailable for comment.
The panel sidestepped deciding whether District 9 board member Marilynn Bland should repay $7,800 for a newsletter she sent to her constituents three days before the March primary in which she was a candidate.
Instead, the panel told board members it was their duty to enforce their own fall resolution requiring Mrs. Bland to repay the money, sources confirmed.
To date, Mrs. Bland has not reimbursed the school system.

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