Wayson to seek ethics review

Critics say school appointee has conflicts of interest

`Not going to resign' from board

May 23, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Already facing calls for his resignation, the newest member of the Anne Arundel County school board said yesterday that he will ask the county ethics commission to review his construction and landscaping companies' dealings with the school system.

Konrad M. Wayson was appointed to the county school board Tuesday instead of the candidate recommended by a citizens' committee. Wayson is president of Childs Landscaping of Arnold, which has been paid nearly $700,000 by the school system in the past few years for work at county schools, records show.

He is an officer in other county construction companies, at least one of which has bid on school system work.

"My intent, when I get in there, is full disclosure of what I'm doing," Wayson said yesterday. "I'll have the ethics commission look and see what we should do. And if they say, `You shouldn't bid anymore,' that's fine, that's what I'll do."

He continued, "I wouldn't do work for the school board if I was on the board. But why would previous work disqualify me?"

Gov. Parris N. Glendening was not aware of the work when he appointed Wayson, his spokeswoman said, adding that the governor's appointment was solely based on the recommendation of County Executive Janet S. Owens.

Owens also was unaware of the $700,000 in contracts, the county executive said.

In tapping Wayson, the governor bypassed Severna Park resident Jim Snider, who was the top choice of the county's school board nominating convention, a citizens' board.

Wayson did not participate in the convention. He won the appointment after a chance meeting with Owens several weeks ago.

The Owens and Wayson families have deep, sprawling roots in Anne Arundel County, and Owens and Wayson say they are probably distant relatives. More recently, members of the Wayson family have donated $2,700 to Owens' campaign fund since 1999, according to state records. Konrad Wayson has not donated.

Owens said she wasn't aware of the family's contributions. "We all grew up together" in rural south Anne Arundel County, she said, so it wasn't surprising that the Wayson family would donate to her.

But the connections - between Wayson and Owens and between Wayson and the school system - have infuriated parents and activists in the county. They say Wayson has conflicts of interest that will prevent him from doing his job on the school board, and they want him to resign.

"The amount of money the school board awards is tremendous, and it would be in his best interest to step down," said Leslie Cowing, a Severna Park parent who served on the county's school board nominating convention.

She also criticized Owens for interfering in the school board appointment process.

"The reason, I believe, Owens took on the challenge of county executive was to defeat cronyism, and this is the very thing she's fallen to," Cowing said.

She and other county residents also are upset that Wayson did not go through the same rigorous screening process as other candidates for the school board. Five candidates applied to the school board nominating convention, a citizens' group that voted on which names to recommend to the governor.

Wayson did not apply to be on the board. He did not attend public forums nor meet with unions representing school employees. "I didn't even think about it at the time," he said.

But two weeks ago, he talked with Owens about economic development, and the school board came up.

"We were having a conversation, and she started going off with the qualifications [for a school board member] and I said, `I'd do it if you wanted me to do it,'" Wayson said. He said his experience in construction appealed to Owens, who is concerned about the sharply rising costs of new schools.

Owens said she then called the governor and recommended Wayson.

Wayson said he did not tell Owens of his companies' dealings with the school system. Childs Landscaping has won $691,609 in contracts from the school system since 1997, school officials said.

"That would have given me pause," Owens said yesterday. But she added that Wayson has proven his integrity during his tenure on the county's Economic Development Corp.

This year, Childs Landscaping has only one project with the system: installing sod at Piney Orchard Elementary for $901. Last year, the company did landscaping at two elementary schools - Davidsonville and Glendale - and was paid $430,015 for the work.

Wayson also is secretary-treasurer of the general contractor Hopkins & Wayson Inc., which bids on school projects but has not won awards, school officials said.

Wayson's father, Morgan W. Wayson Jr., donated $500 to the Committee to Elect Janet Owens last fall, according to the State Board of Elections. Three second cousins of Wayson have donated $2,200 to Owens since 1999.

Wayson's appointment was the first time Glendening did not appoint a convention-backed candidate. The top vote-getter was Snider of Severna Park, who has three children in county schools and is a fellow at a think tank in Washington.

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