By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – The head of the Lee County School District has agreed to repay the district more than $33,000 and pay a $10,000 punitive fine for his violation of state ethics law.
Superintendent Jimmy Weeks was cited by the Mississippi Ethics Commission for a cleaning and janitorial company he owned performing work for the school district. He then offered to pay a $10,000 fine, in addition to repaying the $33,426.61 income an investigation determined he had received from the work.
“The commission determined his offer was an appropriate disposition and accepted the offer” last Friday, said Tom Hood, executive director of the ethics commission.
The $10,000 fine is the maximum amount. It goes to the state general fund.
“I believe that my decision to accept full responsibility in this particular matter is in the best interest of the Lee County School District and in keeping with the open manner in which I promised I would lead our schools,” Weeks said in a statement. “I will continue to focus my attention on my first priority, which is the best-quality education we can provide for the children of Lee County.”
The investigation found Weeks’ company, JW Contract Services LLC, had two contracts with the school district. One was for janitorial services while Weeks was principal at Mooreville Elementary. The other was a subcontract with Siemens Industry to clean up at the end of a project that installed heating, ventilation and air conditioning at six Lee County schools. That occurred when Weeks was assistant superintendent. Both contracts were in 2010. Weeks was elected superintendent in 2011, defeating incumbent Mike Scott.
Mississippi’s ethics law prohibits public servants, including school district administrators, from being a contractor, subcontractor or vendor with the school district that employs them.
It also prohibits them from using their official position to obtain, or attempt to obtain, pecuniary benefit for themselves other than compensation provided by law.
The commission found Weeks in violation of both, Hood said.
Weeks said in his statement that he and his brother were contacted by the Lee County School District in 2010 and asked to submit a bid for cleaning the floors at some of the school buildings. Later, they were asked to perform clean-up work in connection with the upgrading of HVAC systems at several schools.
“I was told by my superiors at the time that this was not a problem and I believed that they had checked with the school district’s attorney on this,” Weeks said in the statement. “I have since learned that the school district’s attorney had not been consulted on this and many other issues. Although I checked with my accountant at the time I did not check with an attorney on my own.”
Asked whom he meant by his superiors, Weeks said he did not have any comment beyond his statement. Scott would have been Weeks’ superior both when Weeks was assistant superintendent and when he was principal. Keith Steele served as assistant superintendent when Weeks was principal.
Attempts to reach both Scott and Steele for comment were not successful. School Board President Sherry Mask had no comment other than to defer to Weeks’ statement.
The work was performed in full, and the charges were in line with what other companies charge, Weeks said.
Weeks’ statement said he determined from the outset he would “take responsibility for my own actions regardless of having relied on the bad advice I received from my superiors.”
The process for determining state ethics violations is spelled out in law. After the commission gets a complaint, it can choose to authorize an investigation. Once that has been completed, the commission sends a copy of its findings to the person involved and gets a response from that person. The commission then makes a probable cause finding.
Most cases settle at that point, as did Weeks’ case, Hood said.
The next step would have been an administrative hearing, likely before a hearing officer who would make a recommendation. The commission does not have authority to remove anyone from office.
Hood said that Weeks’ case will be closed when the commission receives his fine.
The commission processes about 120 complaints each year and conducts about 30 investigations.
Cases involving a school official doing business with a school district are rare, Hood said. Most issues involving school districts concern people employing their relatives.