Fayette gets ruling that school board chair’s national post is no conflict, but not from AG

An education law attorney formerly in the Kentucky Attorney General’s office determined Monday there is no conflict of interest with Fayette County Public Schools board chairman Tyler Murphy serving on the National Education Association board.

As a result, the school board is no longer seeking an opinion from the current Attorney General.

At board member Stephanie Spires’ urging, the school board on Thursday had asked school district General Counsel Shelley Chatfield to seek a Kentucky Attorney General’s opinion on whether Murphy had a conflict. Members wanted an answer as soon as possible. Spires was concerned that Murphy’s role on the school board would be at odds with positions taken by NEA.

At Monday’s school board meeting, Chatfield explained that after being asked Thursday to seek an opinion, the next day she contacted the AG’s office to inquire about timelines for receiving the opinion because “time is of the essence.”

The school board is in the midst of a search for a new superintendent to replace Manny Caulk, who died in December.

“I gleaned from my conversation with a member of the (AG’s) office that the response time was probably going to be longer than we had,” said Chatfield.

Chatfield said she then reached out to Bob Chenoweth, an attorney who represented school districts across Kentucky, including Fayette, before retiring a few months ago and who had written hundreds of Attorney General opinions.

The Kentucky School Boards Association said in a January article on its website that during his career, Chenoweth was counsel to 156 Kentucky school districts, argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and wrote more than 350 Kentucky Attorney General opinions, mostly about education law. The article said Chenoweth worked in the Attorney General’s office for 12 years.

Chenoweth “accepted the task” of determining whether a conflict of interest had occurred, Chatfield said. On Monday, Chenoweth determined there was no conflict of interest or “incompatibility, constitutionally, statutorily, or under common law, ” said Chatfield.

No school board member, including Spires who raised the conflict issue, challenged the opinion or Chatfield’s decision to reach out to Chenoweth.

“I am pleased Mr. Chenoweth investigated this issue,” said Spires. “Chairman Murphy has advocated for transparency, but he fell short by not informing Fayette County Public Schools and the board about his campaign and fundraising in advance. “

“I hope he has learned a lesson regarding communicating with board members. The Kentucky School Board Association Code of Ethics for board members states that board members will “avoid conflicts of interest as well as any public appearances of conflicts,” Spires said.

She said as the district moves forward with the Superintendent hiring process, “all eyes are on Fayette County and our board.”

“In the future, I hope Mr. Murphy understands his responsibility as chair and keeps his board colleagues informed,” said Spires.

Murphy was elected as board chair by his fellow members in January when Spires stepped down from that post but remained on the board.

After Chatfield announced the opinion, Murphy, a Boyle County teacher told the Herald-Leader, “I appreciate legal counsel for reviewing this matter and reaching a swift conclusion.”

“As we move forward, I will continue to evaluate and listen to feedback on an appropriate balance of my roles and responsibilities to advance public education,” Murphy said.

Chatfield told Acting Superintendent Marlene Helm that as part of his work on the opinion, Chenoweth reviewed information about Murphy’s donors in his campaign for the NEA board.

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