State Public Charter School Commission Employee: Gifts; Gifts Disclosure Statements; Fair Treatment
Resolution of Charge 2021-1 (COMPL-C-20-00227)
From Hawaii State Ethics Commission, Sept 10, 2021 (excerpts)
The Hawai‘i State Ethics Commission (“Commission”) has resolved an investigation of Patrick John (“PJ”) Foehr (“Respondent Foehr”), an employee of the State Public Charter School Commission (“SPCSC”), for alleged violations of the State Ethics Code, Hawai‘i Revised Statutes (“HRS”) chapter 84….
c) As an Education Specialist with the SPCSC, Respondent Foehr was a member of the SPCSC’s Federal Programs Team, which provided technical assistance to public charter schools that received Title I federal funding (to ensure compliance with Title I regulations). …
Neighbor Island Fundraiser
d) In February 2018, Respondent Foehr traveled from Honolulu to a neighbor island – in his capacity as an SPCSC Education Specialist – to visit a public charter school (“School”) and meet with the Principal of the School. Respondent Foehr’s trip occurred during the business week and was paid for by SPCSC. Respondent Foehr returned to Honolulu on the same day.
e) There is a nonprofit entity that serves as the School’s Governing Board (“Governing Board”). The Governing Board is responsible for the financial, organizational, and academic viability of the School and implementation of the charter; among other things, the Governing Board oversees the organization, management, and curriculum of the School.
f) During his trip to visit the School, Respondent Foehr learned that the Governing Board was hosting its annual fundraiser event (“Fundraiser”) to benefit the School on the neighbor island that weekend, on Saturday.
g) On Saturday, Respondent Foehr flew back to the neighbor island – in his private capacity and not as part of his job duties for the SPCSC – and attended the Fundraiser. Respondent Foehr paid for his own airfare.
h) The Fundraiser took place at a hotel on the neighbor island (“Hotel”). The Fundraiser charged an admission fee of $100.00. The School Principal did not know beforehand that Respondent Foehr was attending the Fundraiser. The Governing Board’s coordinator for the Fundraiser (“Coordinator”) learned from the School Principal that Respondent Foehr worked for SPCSC, whereupon the Coordinator gave Respondent Foehr complimentary admission to the Fundraiser and asked the Hotel to reserve a hotel room for Respondent Foehr. Respondent Foehr maintains that he was not aware of these actions taken by the Coordinator. The Hotel was known to donate one or two complimentary hotel rooms for the Fundraiser each year, for use by the Coordinator and/or the School.
i) Respondent Foehr stayed overnight at the Hotel. When Respondent Foehr checked out of his room the next day, the Hotel informed him that there was no charge for his room, so Respondent Foehr did not pay for his lodging. The value of Respondent Foehr’s lodging was $228.83. 3
j) Respondent Foehr did not file a gifts disclosure statement with the Commission to report that he had received complimentary admission to the Fundraiser and complimentary lodging at the Hotel. Respondent Foehr maintains that he did not file a gifts disclosure because he was not aware he had received a gift.
Tenancy with SPCSC Consultant
k) Several years prior to becoming employed by SPCSC, Respondent Foehr worked in the private sector, where he became acquainted with a certain education consultant (“Consultant”).
l) Respondent Foehr lost touch with the Consultant for a period of time but ran into the Consultant again at a workshop conducted by the Consultant in November 2017 (“November 2017 Workshop”). Respondent Foehr attended the November 2017 Workshop – with an SPCSC co-worker, in their capacities as SPCSC employees – soon after Respondent Foehr was hired by the SPCSC.
m) At the conclusion of the November 2017 Workshop, Respondent Foehr spoke with the Consultant and expressed interest in having the Consultant assist with an SPCSC leadership conference to be held in late April 2018 (“Leadership Conference”).
n) Respondent Foehr and the Consultant became reacquainted and friends after the November 2017 Workshop. For example, during the December 2017/January 2018 holiday season, Respondent Foehr took care of the Consultant’s pet dogs while the Consultant was traveling.
o) In or around January 2018, Respondent Foehr and his SPCSC co-worker began organizing and coordinating the Leadership Conference for SPCSC, in alignment with the SPCSC Continual School Improvement plan that had been started prior to Respondent Foehr beginning at SPCSC.
p) Respondent Foehr was involved in planning, coordinating, and executing the Leadership Conference, including as follows:
i. In or around January 2018, Respondent Foehr asked the Consultant if the Consultant could secure the speakers from the November 2017 Workshop, as well as another speaker, for the Leadership Conference. This led to further discussions between Respondent Foehr and the Consultant regarding this matter.
ii. The Consultant secured two speakers for the Leadership Conference, and Respondent Foehr and a colleague were involved in discussions regarding these speakers’ participation in the Leadership Conference. The Consultant put Respondent Foehr in touch with the speakers, and Respondent Foehr met and communicated with the Consultant and the speakers (virtually and via email) several times during March and April 2018 to guide the development of the agenda for the Leadership Conference.
iii. Respondent Foehr worked with the speakers to tailor the Leadership Conference for a specific group of charters schools that were going to participate in the event (“Participating Schools”). The speakers asked to see the Participating Schools’ strategic plans to better tailor their presentation, and Respondent Foehr helped to gather the documents and transmit them to the speakers. Respondent Foehr, the Consultant, and the speakers made site visits to three Participating Schools on O‘ahu in April 2018 (the day prior to the Leadership Conference) to observe and gain first-hand knowledge of how the schools were being managed.
q) Respondent Foehr was a relatively new employee at the time and was inexperienced in state procurement procedures. He did not obtain the Consultant’s services through a request for proposals (RFP) process, nor did he prepare an SPCSC contract for the Consultant. Respondent Foehr maintains that he believed a colleague at SPCSC was going to take care of the procurement.
r) At the end of April 2018, after the Leadership Conference was over, the Consultant invoiced SPCSC in the amount of $25,500.00 plus tax, to pay for the Consultant’s and the speakers’ services. Respondent Foehr believes that the speakers themselves received the bulk of this amount. The Consultant’s services included planning and consultation meetings with Respondent Foehr, expenses for the speakers, school site visitations and observations, and a debriefing with Respondent Foehr after the Leadership Conference was over. The invoice was addressed to SPCSC, to the attention of Respondent Foehr.
s) In May 2018, Respondent Foehr filled out and submitted a purchase requisition to SPCSC for the Consultant’s invoice, which was approved by SPCSC’s Federal Programs Team Fiscal Manager, Finance Operations Director, and then-Executive Director. SPCSC paid the Consultant the invoiced amount in May 2018.
t) A fiscal audit did not reveal any record of a contract between the SPCSC and the Consultant for the Leadership Conference. SPCSC eventually corrected its procurement procedures to require a contract for such services in the future, but the SPCSC did not enter in any contract with the Consultant for the Leadership Conference. The SPCSC did not enter into any other contracts with the Consultant at any time before or after the Leadership Conference. 5
u) In early April 2018 – prior to the Leadership Conference, during which time Respondent Foehr was involved in planning meetings with the Consultant and others regarding the Leadership Conference – Respondent Foehr became a private tenant of the Consultant. Respondent rented a room from the Consultant in the Consultant’s home for approximately four months, from early April to mid-August. During April and May 2018, when Respondent Foehr was interacting with the Consultant regarding the Leadership Conference, Respondent Foehr paid the Consultant a total of between $1,000 and $1,500 in rent and utilities. Respondent Foehr maintains that he paid fair market value for the tenancy.
v) Respondent Foehr maintains that, at the time of his actions as described above, he was a new state employee and therefore was unaware that his actions were prohibited under the State Ethics Code. He likewise maintains that there was no connection between his official actions on behalf of SPCSC and his private tenancy with the Consultant, whom Respondent Foehr considered to be a personal friend.
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