SALT LAKE CITY — State School Board members discussed possible conflicts of interest Thursday after law firms where two school board members work bid on a $40,000 contract with the board to provide seminars to Utah charter schools on legal matters and governance.
Ordinarily, the elected Utah State Board of Education only approves contracts that exceed $100,000.
But the board agreed to consider the contract separately after some board members raised concerns about possible conflicts of interest.
State School Board purchasing officials awarded the contract to the Salt Lake law firm Lear & Lear, of which board member Carol Lear is an of counsel attorney.
The Salt Lake law firm Kirton McConkie also bid on the contract. Board member Joel Wright is a shareholder at that firm.
Both attorneys specialize in education law.
Prior to the board's discussion, Lear explained her role with Lear & Lear and how the contract would be handled.
"I have stated on the face of this contract over and over that I will not benefit from, neither will the law firm, of which I am not a partner, benefit from this particular contract. It will be two other people with whom I usually work with but we also have the kind of arrangement that allows for them to benefit, them to do work that does not benefit me and I will not be benefitted at all by this contract. I can't do more than assure you that's case," she said.
Board member Linda Hansen questioned if "Lear & Lear isn't going to profit from this, then why was it set up as a contract from Lear & Lear? Why didn't those who were going to work on it set it up individually?"
The contract was sought under the Lear & Lear vendor number, although state procurement practices would allow individuals to also bid under a different vendor number, sald Zac Christensen, the State School Board's director of purchasing.
Board member Spencer Stokes noted the contract went through the board's "a request for proposal" process and the board should have confidence in that process.
"I think it's stupid that these two attorneys decided to put it in under Lear & Lear. Based on the fact Carol sits on the board, they could have put this in under some other organization called, oh, I don't know, Jiminy Cricket and Co.," he said.
But it will not serve the board well to second-guess its procurement policies and practices "every time there's something that annoys you," Stokes said.
Board member Alisa Ellis said questioning the contract "is not a personal assault. As I told board member Wright, I was equally disturbed that his law firm put in a bid for the contract."
The board considered a motion to "disapprove the contract," but the motion was defeated.
Neither Lear nor Wright voted on the motion. Wright left the board room during the discussion while Lear remained in the room but she did not comment other than her initial clarifying remarks.