By Ryan Miner
The Washington County Board of Education voted yesterday to accept the school system’s 5-member independent Ethics Advisory Panel Opinion and Order Number 01, 2016, a monumentally unprecedented ruling that concluded that Board member Mike Guessford unequivocally violated the school board ethics policy.
I filed a “conflict of interest complaint” with the Washington County Board of Education last fall that proved Guessford incontestably failed to file a complete and accurate financial disclosure statement in 2013 and 2014 as well as filing an incomplete disclosure form in 2015.
The independent Ethics Advisory Panel considered the information I provided and subsequently reviewed Guessford’s ethics disclosure forms. After several months of careful analysis and review, the Ethics Panel concluded that Guessford did not recuse himself as a Board member from voting on contracts that directly benefited himself and his business partner, Milton Stamper. Moreover, the Panel found that since taking office in December 2014, Guessford unambiguously failed to disclose that his business, Applause Caterers, benefited financially from doing business with Washington County Public Schools on at least five separate occasions, totaling over $1700.00.
The Ethics Advisory Panel’s ruling and the Board’s subsequent 4-1 vote to accept the Panel’s recommendation shows that Guessford is entirely unfit to serve, leaving an austere cloud of doubt over whether he can continue in service as an elected official. After reading the Panel’s damning findings, how could the citizens of Washington County possibly trust Guessford to remain a key decision maker on behalf of students, teachers, administration officials and other employees of Washington County Public Schools? How do parents of students who attend Washington County Public Schools trust Mike Guessford to be responsible with a $300 million-dollar budget? How can Washington County citizens trust Mike Guessford to be responsible with taxpayer dollars when he couldn’t even tell the truth on his ethics disclosure forms?
Guessford, however, has at least two staunch defenders – a cabal that could fill only a motorcycle and a side car.
Karen Harshman and Melissa Williams are standing by their man.
Williams apparently couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday to explain why she voted against the Ethics Advisory Panel’s recommendation and findings, the only Board member to cast a dissenting vote, according to Herald-Mail reporter CJ Lovelace. Convenient, it is.
I had heard that Karen Harshman was or still is apparently sick and couldn’t hack yesterday’s meeting. But we know how Harshman would have voted on the now-infamous Opinion and Order 01,2016, thanks in part to the solid journalism executed by CJ Lovelace, a dogged Herald-Mail reporter who did a bang up job covering Guessford’s fall from grace (not that Guessford ever exhibited grace in the first place).
Today, Lovelace Tweeted Harshman’s reaction to Guessford’s ethical demise:
— C.J. Lovelace (@cj_lovelace) September 7, 2016
In classic Harshman style, she digs herself a deeper hole,
“I think it is a shame that people can stoop so low as to make an issue out of a mistake,” says Harshman. Melissa Williams also voted ‘no.’
— C.J. Lovelace (@cj_lovelace) September 7, 2016
Did she actually utter those words? This is the same Karen Harshman who, in 2014, spent practically every waking moment – and still, to this day – desperately highlighting my personal indiscretions and past mistakes to anyone – and I mean, anyone – willing to listen. Karen Harshman literally believes I am the devil incarnate, making an issue out of some the past mistakes I’ve made in my life – mistakes that I’ve been 100% open and honest about in public and in private. Karen Harshman apparently has different standards for Mike Guessford. But then again, I’m not the apple of her eye like little Mikey is.
I’m not sure which is worse – Karen Harshman’s mortifying and blatant hypocrisy or her defending a guy who was found guilty of violating the Board’s ethics policies way beyond a reasonable doubt. But we already know all about Karen Harshman’s flimsy threshold for legal standards.
As for Melissa Williams – I expected better. We already knew that Harshman’s affection for Mike Guessford is boundless and stretches well into the inexplicable. But I thought, perhaps, that Williams would or could exercise a modicum of decency and vote against her longtime pal and comrade Guessford. My intuition – this time – was way off kilter. Something deep down inside, however, told me Williams was capable of doing the right thing. I guess not.
But here’s a question worth exploring: Since Guessford, Williams and Harshman are close, personal friends – friends who meet together before, during, in between and after Board meetings, eat together, socialize together and spend holidays fraternizing with one another and other WCTA loyalists – why didn’t they walk Guessford through the process of filling out his ethics disclosure forms, ensuring that all of his required documents were unimpeachable at the time he submitted not one, but three (2013, 14′, and a redo of 15′)? And if Guessford had any doubts about his ethics forms, why didn’t he approach Harshman and Williams with questions? I don’t know for certain, but isn’t this a logical question to ponder?
It’s such a common form of knowledge that when you’re on a Board and you do business with said Board, you recuse yourself! This is Ethics 101! Elementary, my dear Watson. And he didn’t know he was doing business when he was signing the checks? Come on, Mike.
Whatever the case, Guessford can count his lucky stars; he has two best buddies in high places. Tammy Wynette could not have said it better:
Stand by your man,
And show the world you love him
Keep giving all the love you can
Stand by your man
It’s time to resign, Mike. It’s time to do the right thing – once and for all.