Voters, don't set stage for conflict

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School district must tighten rules, but all this could have been avoided.

THE SCHOOL DISTRICT of Beloit is proposing a rewrite of its rules governing potential conflicts of interest and spelling out how board members should conduct themselves in such circumstances.

The impetus for the consideration has been multiple situations in which board Vice President David Wilson either has not recused, participated in discussions and decisions, or stayed in the room while recused on matters pertaining to his wife, Janay Banks-Wilson, an assistant principal at Beloit Memorial High School.

There's an old saying: It's not enough to avoid a conflict of interest; one must avoid even the appearance of a conflict.

THIS IS NOT a difficult call. Clearly, the board needs to tighten its rules to restrict members from combining the personal with the professional.

Perhaps the board felt it needed the security of clearer rules before taking a principled stand.

Henceforth, board members should be empowered to demand that a colleague believed by a majority to be in conflict recuse and leave the room, not participating in any way in select matters.

In public service, trust is the most precious bond between officials and constituents. Public bodies must fiercely guard that bond and, when necessary, take effective steps to preserve it.

BUT LET'S NOT leave out one important component in the relationship between officials and constituents. That's the responsibility of voters not to elect in the first place individuals who may have a clear conflict.

It was well reported by the Beloit Daily News, prior to his election, that David Wilson could face conflict situations because of his wife's employment. Likewise, the newspaper has accurately reported that another potential conflict situation could arise in the coming April election, because candidate Torie Champeny's husband is a teacher in the School District of Beloit.

At the very least, board members with spouses employed in a district will be impaired in discussing and deciding matters related to compensation issues. The Wilson situation makes clear potential conflicts can go beyond that, into workplace conditions and complaints and, perhaps, other matters.

THE BEST WAY for voters to avoid problems is not to elect candidates whose personal connections pose clear conflict potential.

Here's the rub: Every minute spent haggling over problems created by adults is a minute lost to important matters benefiting kids.

It's an unnecessary, self-inflicted complication and voters shouldn't allow it.

Yes, the board is moving in the right direction to tighten conflict rules.

Even that, though, would be a moot point if voters did their homework - and their job.

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