Sunday, October 21 , 2018, 5:34 am | Fair 59º

 
 
 
 

Lompoc School Board Member To Reimburse District After Alleged Conflict Votes

Attorney says Bill Christen's participation in approving administrators' salary hikes, including employee wife, problematic

School board member Bill Christen reportedly will repay the Lompoc Unified School District some $26,000 because he had a conflict of interest when he voted for raises for administrators, including his wife.
School board member Bill Christen reportedly will repay the Lompoc Unified School District some $26,000 because he had a conflict of interest when he voted for raises for administrators, including his wife. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A Lompoc Unified School District trustee improperly voted for administrators’ raises, which included his wife’s, and reportedly will repay the district some $26,000 because he had a conflict of interest.  

On Tuesday night, after meeting in closed session minus a member — likely Bill Christen — the board decided to issue a statement about the conflict of interest.

In 2014 and 2015, the five-member school board voted to give increases to members of the Association of Lompoc School Administrators. 

Christen’s wife, Tina, is a member of the group since she is the district’s director of special education and auxiliary support services.

However, district lawyers recently advised the actions were a conflict of interest for Christen.

“We want you to know that we have taken actions to address this matter and continue to work to correct it,” the board of education said in a statement read by board president Steve Straight.

“Among those actions (the board) has been working with member Christen and his representative to recoup the money inappropriately paid to his wife,” Straight said, reading from the board's statement. “These are complex issues. So we are working closely with our legal counsel to resolve the repayment issue as well as ensure we do not have this problem again.”

Tina Christen had held the job since 2012, after filling the same position in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District.

She also served as an assistant principal in the Lompoc district for nearly six years, and as a special education teacher  from 1993 to 1999.

“As trustees, we have important obligations to the community,” Straight read. “We must conduct ourselves in compliance with those laws designed to ensure that we put the district’s interests above our own, and take corrective action when we fail to do so, whether intentionally or by mistake. 

“We must guard and protect the funds entrusted to us. We must be transparent in our actions.”

Christen, a board member since 2012, is a former Lompoc police officer who works as director of safety and security at the Chumash Casino.

He would not comment Tuesday about the matter.

The two votes Christen participated in granted the administrators, including his wife, a 4-percent raise on schedule and a 2 percent one-time pay hike. The previous year’s approved salary increase was 4.25 percent.

The special education director’s salary reportedly is approximately $130,000.

Upon receiving a legal opinion in January that the votes violated Government Code section 1090, district officials began discussing how to address the conflict-of-interest issue involving Christen’s votes where he had a financial interest, Superintendent Trevor McDonald said. 

This means she was not included in raises approved for this year, he added.

Comments about Christen's conflict and other allegations have swirled around the community for months, with one Twitter user claiming the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury was investigating the issue.

Elected officials are prohibited from voting on items where they have an economic interest, because they own property nearby or otherwise may benefit financially in casting a vote. Typically, a school board or council members will abstain from all discussions and votes involving a topic where they have a conflict, and will step off the dais.

The Fair Political Practices Commission serves as the watchdog agency for elected and government officials, investigating alleged violations.

Communications Director Jay Wierenga said the agency has no complaints regarding Christen in its database. However, FPPC officials don't comment on cases under investigation.

He also declined to say whether a matter appears to be a conflict, explaining that it must wait for the completion of an investigation. 

An investigation, if conducted, can take weeks or months, with most done in less than year.

Each violation of the Political Reform Act carries a potential penalty of a $5,000 fine per incident. 

However, penalties, which can begin with a warning letter, vary depending on the number of violations, complexity of the case, cooperation, willingness to correct violations in a timely manner, and the factors, FPPC officials said. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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