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Dubious Ties Taint Capistrano District

Times Staff Writer

The Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees has approved hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts with a construction consultant that employs the school board president’s daughter.

Additionally, the district’s director of construction failed to disclose his wife’s income from the district’s sole plumbing contractor, an apparent violation of the state’s Political Reform Act.

“It’s clear they need some ethics training and that nobody is minding the store,” said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization in Los Angeles.

The revelations are the latest in a string of controversies at the 50,000-student Orange County district, including: a failed attempt to recall the district’s seven trustees; accusations of fiscal mismanagement; and allegations that the superintendent maintained an enemies list of teachers, parents and others who received pro-recall e-mails. Supt. James A. Fleming, who announced his retirement last month, denies such a list exists.

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This week there also were revelations that the district’s sole plumbing contractor, Montano Plumbing Co., employed Fleming’s son, Sean, and the wife of the district’s director of construction, Mark Bauer.

Sherry Bauer has worked for Montano Plumbing for nearly a decade, yet according to documents released by the district on Friday, her husband has never disclosed his wife’s employment or income, as is required on his annual statements of economic interests.

Whitney Barazoto, a spokeswoman for the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, said she could not comment on this case directly. Speaking generally, she said that a spouse’s income should have been included on such statements and that failure to disclose such information is punishable by a $5,000 fine for each year’s statement.

Bauer did not return calls seeking comment.

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In a separate case, board president Marlene M. Draper’s daughter, Shawna Schaffner, is a vice president of Culbertson, Adams & Associates, an environmental planning firm, and has worked on school district projects. Draper has never abstained from voting on contracts with the Aliso Viejo company. In December, the board approved a $172,000 contract with the firm.

Attempts to reach Schaffner and company officials were unsuccessful late Friday.

Draper said she asked the district’s legal counsel about whether she could vote on such items when her daughter began working for the firm in 2001. “He assured me there was no conflict of interest because I am not gaining anything monetarily by her working there,” Draper said.

But Stern said elected officials should know better.

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“It’s not illegal, but it certainly raises a red flag and the question is: Is it ethical? The answer is probably not,” he said.


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