The Missoula County Attorney’s Office has concluded its investigation into a potential conflict of interest involving two Missoula public school officials, and on Feb. 13 released a memo finding no violations of state ethics laws.
School Board Trustee Drake Lemm, through his company Drake Lemm Construction, was hired by district Superintendent Jim Clark to build an addition to his garage, and in September 2006 Chief Civil Deputy County Attorney Mike Sehestedt said he was examining whether the project, estimated to cost about $4,400, constituted a “substantial financial transaction.”
State law prohibits elected officials from “engaging in a substantial financial transaction for his/her private business purpose with a person whom he/she inspects or supervises in the course of his/her official duties.” The school board hires, fires and evaluates superintendents.
Sehestedt wrote in the Feb. 13 memo that “Given the size of this project compared to other projects undertaken by Mr. Lemm and Mr. Lemm’s representation that he undertook the project as a favor to Mr. Clark, it is my conclusion that this was not, from Mr. Lemm’s perspective, a substantial financial transaction.”
Lemm told the Independent he’s not surprised the county attorney found no legal missteps. He says he took the job to “help out a friend a little bit” and that “it was so insubstantial to my financial income that it was just a labor of love more than anything.”
Trustee Teresa Jacobs, who has publicly addressed the investigation, says the county attorney’s finding doesn’t appease her concerns.
“This kind of transaction fundamentally changes the relationship between a superintendent and a trustee…there have to be clear guidelines that we strictly follow in order to ensure the public trust and proper professional relationships,” Jacobs says.
Lemm responds, “I could see how some people might think there’s a conflict there, but in my mind, there never was one.”
While Sehestedt found no legal violation on Lemm’s part, his memo also issued a caution: “I would urge the parties and other public officers to avoid such transactions in the future since they raise, at a very minimum, questions of propriety.”