ENCINITAS — Encinitas Union School District Superintendent Timothy Baird attended conferences in Massachusetts, San Diego, Carlsbad and other locations all on the dime of two organizations linked to the district’s yoga program.
But Baird did not report the travel payments — considered gifts under state law — on his statement of economic interest forms, commonly known as “Form 700s.”
Baird said he didn’t report them because he didn’t have to — the school district’s conflict of interest code doesn’t require him to, he said.
Citing the school’s code, Baird said that the superintendent or board only have to report investments in and income (including travel and gifts) from three types of entities: groups buying or selling real property within the district, contractors or subcontractors who have worked with the district within a two year period of the income or manufacturers that sell books, supplies or machinery to the district.
The Sonima Foundation and the University of San Diego Center for Educational Policy and Law, which paid for Baird’s travel, meals and lodging associated with several of these conferences, don’t fit any of the categories, Baird said.
“They have only given resources and support to the Encinitas Union School District,” Baird said. “They have not been a factor whatsoever in our current decision to fund our Enrichment Teacher Program. They are not receiving any payments from the District and they are not expecting any in the future for this work.”
But a review of the district’s conflict of interest code and state rules governing such codes suggests that Baird and the board for years have operated under an incorrect set of rules, and should have been disclosing more information to the public — including all gifts and travel.
For the most part, the state allows for local jurisdictions to set their own conflict of interest policies, with the exception of one bright line: State law require that any elected officials and administrators in organizations that manages public investments are subject to broader reporting requirements that are laid out in the Government Code 87200.
The state lists positions that automatically fall under this category — judges, commissioners, county supervisors, city council members, pension board members, city managers, city attorneys, district attorneys, county counsels, county treasurers and chief administrative officers of counties are some of the positions listed.
But the category also ends with the following language: “and other public officials who manage public investments.”
Agencies that don’t manage public investments are allowed to adopt conflict of interest codes where elected officials and key employees have more limited disclosure requirements.
Gary Winuk, the former chief enforcement officer with the Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforces the state’s conflict of interest laws, said that the lack of uniformity often causes confusion in the case of agencies that don’t manage investments.
“I can see how that lack of uniformity when discussing the same position in different districts could be troubling, but the law allows for each jurisdiction to make the determination for itself,” Winuk said.
In Encinitas Union School District’s case, however, a decision in 2010 makes the case for less disclosure harder to argue.
According to Encinitas school records, the district adopted an investment policy in 2010 that starts with the following language, “The Board of Trustees and the Superintendent support prudent investment of all revenues received by the district. All district monies shall be deposited with the San Diego County Treasury as provided by law and invested as part of the San Diego County Treasury Investment Pool.”
Later in the policy is the following statement: “The Board recognizes the importance of overseeing investments made with district funds, including investments by the county treasurer. The Superintendent or designee shall maintain ongoing communication with any county committee established for the purpose of overseeing county investments. In addition, the Superintendent or designee shall keep the Board informed about county policies that guide the investment of these funds.”
Baird said the district set up the policy in anticipation of investing a portion of the proceeds of the sale of Pacific View Elementary School, which was delayed due to the recession. The district ultimately sold the property in 2014 to the city of Encinitas for $10 million, but has yet to invest any of the funds.
“We have not made any investments outside of the county pool ever (at least as far as I know),” Baird said. “This investment was going to be our first.”
The FPPC does not comment on specific cases unless they are under investigation, but FPPC spokesman Jay Wierenga said that agencies that have the ability to invest — not just those who have made actual investments — should be subjected to broader disclosure requirements.
“If a position has the ability to invest funds (but hasn’t yet done it), we would say the position should file under (the government code) as opposed to a designated position where the disclosure may be limited,” Wierenga said. “Generally speaking, the more a person takes part in decisions regarding policy, contracts, and investments, the more likely it is they should be required to not only file but also at a higher or highest level of disclosure.”
Baird said that at the time they adopted the policy they were not aware it would trigger such requirements, and said he would speak to the school district’s counsel to determine the next step.
He suggested earlier that he would discuss with counsel if he should amend his Form 700s to reflect the trips above and beyond the district’s reporting requirements.
“I have contacted my attorney to see if he feels that even though my work with these entities does not fit the definition for public reporting on the Form 700, whether it may be advisable for transparency purposes beyond that required by law, that I file an amendment to my previous Form 700 reports to include this information,” Baird wrote on July 13. “Unfortunately, he has been on vacation and has not responded back yet. If he feels that this is appropriate, I will be filing these amendments in the next few weeks.”