Paula Cooper Black: Conflict exists

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Having read the article (Steamboat Pilot & Today, Nov. 6) about the new school board taking their seats Monday evening, I was more than a little disappointed by the comments made by John DeVincentis and Brad Kindred.

Both men commented about DeVincentis' potential conflict of interest regarding the negotiations over teachers' salaries because of his wife's current employment as a teacher in the district.

I have, during the past 30 years, served on many boards and committees as well as 12 years on the City Council of Steamboat Springs. Each time I served, I was aware that there would be times that I would have to step down because of a real or perceived conflict of interest. Each board, committee and council that I served on had a code of ethics statement that I was either instructed on or asked to sign.

Mr. Kindred remarked, "Is he going to get a direct monetary gain because his wife gets a pay raise? That's a pretty big stretch." In fact, it is not a stretch; it is the very definition of conflict of interest.

Dr. DeVincentis commented that the prospect of recusing himself from a vote about district salaries was "absurd." Coming from the former principal of Strawberry Park Elementary School, where during his tenure he instituted a program of virtues for the students, I find this comment particularly disturbing. Is it not virtuous to be ethical and willingly acknowledge real or perceived conflicts of interest when they arise?

Mr. Kindred pointed out that this is a small town, and we tend to know "everybody." I agree; but you need not live in a large city to serve with character and principle. The code of ethics does not require one to step down for merely knowing an individual. Instead, it urges one to see that the appearance of conflict exists and to act in the best interest of the board.

I have been gratified that each person I have had the privilege to serve with has at various times willingly stepped down when even the slightest appearance of conflict has occurred. We have all, at times, had to step down on issues regardless of our passion or position about the issue. We did so because it was the ethical thing to do.

Finally, I would advise Dr. DeVincentis that it is better to acknowledge those conflicts forthrightly and step down than to be asked to step down by School Board members and lose the respect of your fellow citizens. By our actions, we teach our children how to be ethical and virtuous, a most noble endeavor for a member of the institution of education.

Paula Cooper Black

Steamboat Springs

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