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Trinity board members could face contempt in bus contract voting

| Thursday, April 11, 2013, 12:18 a.m.

A Washington County judge is mulling whether to hold two members of the Trinity Area School District board in contempt for ignoring a court order and participating in a vote to award a multimillion-dollar bus contract.

The two who voted for an $8.86 million bus contract with First Student Inc., based in Cincinnati, were among those the district agreed had a conflict of interest because they drive for a company involved in the bidding. A lawyer for GG&C, a Washington bus company that provided the district bus service since 1967, wants Common Pleas President Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca to hold Sandra Clutter and Jenene Hupp in contempt and nullify the April 1 contract vote that passed 5-3-1. Henry Clemens, another bus driver on the board, is part of the conflict agreement but abstained.

Clutter and Hupp testified they believed their votes were not a conflict of interest.

“An unbiased board is a tenet of due process,” GG&C attorney Richard Kelly said.

Clutter and Hupp work for Schweinebraten, a Washington company that handles part of the district's busing. Both formerly worked for GG&C, the company John Lenzner owns which also employs Clemens.

Lenzner attended Wednesday's hearing but did not speak. The school district said he is trying to undermine the system through the lawsuit GG&C filed after bids were opened in January. GG&C offered to drop the lawsuit if the school district awards it the contract, said Chris Furman, a school district lawyer.

“Essentially what he is attempting to do is go around the bid process and have the board award his company the contract,” Furman said.

Clutter and Hupp did not violate the state ethics code because their votes benefited neither themselves nor their employer, Furman said. The women said awarding First Student the contract will cost them their jobs.

O'Dell Seneca said that rationale doesn't necessarily mean they didn't violate the conflict order they agreed to.

“That is a problem,” the judge said. “We don't go off like the Wild West and do what we want to do.”

O'Dell Seneca has not ruled.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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