Clark County school board member under investigation for alleged conflict of interest

Published 7:57 am Wednesday, September 15, 2021

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The Kentucky Attorney General’s Office is investigating a report that a business owned by a Clark County Schools Board member allegedly received over $85,000 in work for a district-funded project.

“Our office is reviewing this matter,” Elizabeth Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the AG’s office, confirmed in an email to the Sun on Thursday.

The news of the investigation regarding board member Sherry Richardson was broken by Leigh Searcy of WLEX-TV on Tuesday evening.

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The investigation centers around whether Howard’s Overhead Doors, owned by Richardson and her husband Paul , were paid for subcontracted services during the construction of the athletics complex at George Rogers Clark High School while she was in office, which if proven would be a violation of Kentucky law.

According to Searcy’s story, an examination of documents provided by the school district pertaining to the project found no mention of Howard’s Overhead Doors.

But Searcy reported that the station independently obtained invoices that list seven payments from Rising Sun Developing Company, the project’s general contractor, to Howard’s from June 2019 to Jan. 2020.

Online filings on the Kentucky Secretary of State’s website list Richardson as the treasurer of Howard’s Overhead Doors going as far back as 2013 and includes the years that the payments allegedly happened.

Richardson was elected to her seat on the school board in 2018 and was sworn in in 2019.

A state statute, KRS 160.180, lists one of the qualifications for school board office that as of the election that person has “no interest, direct or indirect, in the sale to the Board of books, stationery or any other property, materials, supplies, equipment, or services for which school funds are expended.”

Another statute, KRS 45.450, part of a section of a law known as the “Model Procurement Code” states it is a conflict of interest for any school district employee with procurement power, which includes board members, to participate directly in any decision regarding a contract or subcontract with a business or organization in which they or a family member is an employee, has a vested financial or negotiating powers.

As a school board member, one of Richardson’s duties is to vote on pay applications involving district contracts.

If the investigation verifies the allegations against her it would be a violation of KRS 45A.455 which is a Class A misdemeanor, an offense that is punishable with 90 days to 12 months of jail time and a $500 fine.

Kentucky law states that a board member can only be removed from office if they resign, are suspended by the state board of education or are removed by action taken by the attorney general.

The alleged conflict of interest happened before Superintendent Molly McComas began her tenure in August.

“I’m becoming aware of the circumstances really in the same manner as everyone else is in the community,” she said to the Sun in a phone conversation. “The matter that took place that is being addressed over the last couple of years was prior to my arrival. I have no personal knowledge of how those events took place.”

Richardson declined to comment for this story and referred the matter to her attorney, Tim Crawford of Corbin.

Crawford did confirm that he is representing Richardson in the matter and that she, not the school board, hired him in an individual capacity. He also said that Howard’s received payment from Rising Sun for services rendered and not directly from the school board.