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No conflict of interest for Womack, says attorney

SoVaNow.com / December 16, 2013
Halifax County Attorney Jeremy Carroll has advised that newly elected ED-3 Supervisor Earl Womack has no conflict of interest serving in dual roles as Halifax County supervisor and as transportation coordinator for the Halifax County Public Schools.

In a three-page memorandum addressed to members of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors, Carroll wrote last week that Virginia’s Conflict of Interest Act (COIA) bars governing officials, elected or appointed, from having a personal interest in the contracts awarded by the local government that the person represents. The law makes exceptions for employment contracts and further stipulates that representatives may not enter into contracts “with any governmental agency that is a component part of his local government and which is subject to the ultimate control of the governing body of which he is a member.”

The law does not apply to Womack, wrote the county attorney, on two grounds: one, his contract is tied to employment, which is allowed under the law, and two, the School Board, Womack’s employer, is a separate entity from the Board of Supervisors and thus not covered by the “component part” clause of the COIA.

“The Attorney General has explained that a governmental agency is not subject to the ultimate control of the board of supervisors if that agency has ‘independent authority to contract,’” wrote Carroll in his advisory. He said the School Board has exactly the independent authority to enter into contract that the law references.

“Based on these opinions, Mr. Womack may serve on the Board of Supervisors and contract for employment with the School Board without violating the COIA.

“Mr. Womack also may vote on budgetary matters before the Board of Supervisors that impact the schools in certain circumstances. If Mr. Womack has a personal interest in a transaction under COIA, he must disqualify himself from participating in that transaction if the transaction has application ‘solely’ to a governmental agency in which he has a personal interest,” wrote Carroll. “This provision does not, however, require Mr. Womack to disqualify himself whenever a vote concerns the School Board.

The county attorney also advised that supervisors are allowed to participate in School Board budget votes even if they have spouses who might be affected by the outcome, since the vote would be “to determine approval or disapproval of the entire budget; a matter of general application not directly related to either salary paid or identity of any specific salaried teacher or employee or officer of the School Board.”

The same logic holds true of Womack’s future votes on School Board budgets, in which supervisors would cast up-or-down votes, without the authority to rework specific items of the budget. “Thus, Mr. Womack may vote on budgetary matters even though he also works as Transportation Coordinator as long as the vote concerns a matter of general application,” Carroll stated in his letter.

Votes concerning specific part of the School Board budget, such as transportation, could be a different matter, Carroll added. “The facts of any particular transaction would have to be examined to determine if it directly impacts Mr. Womack. For example, a vote on approving bond financing for the acquisition of new school buses might impact the Transportation Coordinator directly and, therefore, would require a closer analysis.

If it turns out Womack must disqualify himself from a specific transaction, or if he elects to disqualify himself, he must make a disclosure of “the existence of his interest, including the full name and address of the business . . . and his disclosure shall be reflected in the public records of the agency for five years in the office of the administrative head of the officer’s or employee’s governmental or advisory agency,” wrote Carroll.

Womack, who will take his seat in January, was elected in November to replace the outgoing William Fitzgerald.

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Who is in charge of hiring and firing the HalifaxCounty attorney?

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he should not be allowed to vote on any school related budget


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