School Head Criticized For United Way Donation

By  | 

Washoe County school superintendent James Hager is drawing criticism from the school district's ex-lawyer for contributing $2,200 in district funds to the United Way.

Jeffrey Blanck, the district's former legal counsel now on administrative leave without pay, told the Daily Sparks Tribune he will file a formal citizen's complaint against Hager with the state attorney general's office.

He said he remains convinced the donation was illegal despite an earlier review by county prosecutors who decided against pursuing criminal charges.

"You can't make a gift of public funds," Blanck told the newspaper.

"You just can't give away money that was designated to our children. You can't give it to outside charities," he said.

Hager acknowledged he authorized donations to the United Way using school district funds. He said the charity organization "indirectly supports" Washoe County schools.

"They do a lot of health and social services for the community," Hager said.

"The school board has independently looked at that and declared it to be an appropriate donation. This has gone directly to the district attorney's office and he has given a full exoneration," he said.

Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick said in a Jan. 9 letter he had reviewed the case and concluded "a criminal complaint will not be issued.

"I do not find any evidence to support the allegations," Gammick said.

Blanck, who is on administrative leave without pay for an undisclosed reason, said the benefits United Way provides the community is irrelevant.

"If it's a good cause, give them your own money," he said.

Blanck said his job came into jeopardy when he complained about Hager's contribution.

"Hager told me, 'I can't trust you as my lawyer because of the charges,'" Blanck said.

"I'm not his lawyer. I'm the lawyer from the (school) district. Hager's problem is that I can go to the board and tell them what Hager's doing, and he doesn't want that because then he's held accountable," he said.

Hager said that it would be inappropriate to discuss Blanck's dismissal.

"That's a personnel action and at this point I don't think it's appropriate to discuss what those personnel issues are," Hager said. "They're going through a due process proceeding."

Alan Artz, a Washoe County sheriff's detective, said in an incident report that Washoe County School Board President Jonnie Pullman had anticipated "something like this from Blanck as he was currently the object of some serious personnel action."

"Pullman told me that neither she, nor the board as a whole, have any problem with the donations cited," Artz wrote.

Blanck said no one member can speak for the entire board.

Anne Cory, a spokeswoman for the United Way, said the charity provides teachers with the names of places to refer children and families in need.

She said the school district participates in the United Way's advisory board but the charity has no contract with the school district and provides no services directly.

Washoe County School Board member Lezlie Porter said Tuesday she was "not at liberty to discuss" the allegations, but said that the school district has made provisions to donate to the community.

School Board member Dan Carne said he had no comment because it is "a legal discussion between our superintendent and Jeff."

"We've been told at this point that we need to stay 100 percent out of it," he said.