May 4 - May 10, 1995

Even's Odds

Top Local School Officials Attempt To Wire A Job For TUSD's Brenda Even, But The City Council Refuses To Play Along.

By Jim Wright

TOP OFFICIALS FROM several local school districts recently attempted to enlist the Tucson City Council in an effort to get around state conflict-of-interest rules and allow Brenda Even, Tucson Unified School Board chairwoman, to compete for a $45,000-a-year job.

And although Even was one of three applicants for the executive director's job at the Family Advocacy Resource & Wellness Centers, Inc., a reporter was twice referred to her as the person within the organization handling matters related to that job opening.

Even subsequently denied involvement with the matter, however.

In September 1994, Even, then a TUSD board member, filed a declaration of conflict of interest at district headquarters disclosing her position as the volunteer executive director of the Wellness Centers, which has close ties to the district.

According to documents filed with the Arizona Corporation Commission, the Wellness Centers' incorporators and board of directors are the four superintendents from the Amphitheater, Flowing Wells, Sunnyside and Tucson Unified school districts. The organization grew out of a discussion with Tucson Mayor George Miller and members of the four school boards. The educators wanted to do a better job meeting the needs of students and parents.

In the fall of 1992, Wellness Centers opened shop at various schools, providing social services and resources for children, youth and families.

Today, Wellness Centers, with staffs funded by the federal government's Title 1, are flourishing at 12 schools within the four local districts. The person most responsible for their success is Even, a tireless worker on the organization's behalf. For some, the Wellness Centers are Brenda Even.

But with the rapid growth of the one-stop centers--a dozen more are coming on line in the near future--a new problem surfaced: the need for a full-time administrator.

How to fund that position also posed a problem. If Title 1 or other TUSD funds were to be used, Even would be eliminated as a possible candidate for the top job, since she'd directly benefit from receiving school-based funding. In other words, she'd have a big-time conflict of interest.

So Even and her superintendent buddies recently tried to get around that roadblock.

On March 20, Tucson City Manager Mike Brown wrote a memo to the city council explaining he'd received a request for $45,000 in funding on behalf of the Wellness Centers from two school superintendents.

Richard B. Wilson, superintendent of Amphi, and J. Robert Hendricks, superintendent of Flowing Wells, explained their request amounted to half the funds being sought to support the Wellness Centers' administrative budget. The additional $45,000 was to be requested from Pima County.

The superintendents' letter went on to say participating school districts would "contribute financially in terms of donated services, loaned personnel, in-kind services, shared facilities, equipment and utilities."

What the superintendents did not tell Brown in their letter was that a month earlier, the Wellness Centers had begun their search to fill the position of executive director.

According to a job advertisement released in January, the executive director's position came with an annual salary of $45,000 to $50,000.

Two working days before the Wellness Centers request for funding was to appear before the city council, The Weekly contacted Vicky Cox Golder, clerk of the Amphi School District Governing Board, to learn more about the executive director's position and to request a copy of the job announcement.

Cox Golder said three people had already applied for the position, and that Brenda Even was among them.

Oddly, when The Weekly requested a copy of the job description from an Amphi secretary, we were directed to speak directly with Even at TUSD.

A TUSD secretary also answered our request by telling us to track down Even. We were told, "You'll have to see Dr. Even. She's the only one who handles that."

Even denied having anything to do with the hiring process. She said it's understandable secretaries would refer people to her, since she's been coordinating the program for several years. When shown the job description, Even said it was the first time she'd ever laid eyes on it.

The superintendents' $45,000 request was tabled unanimously by the council, and no explanation was offered.

Later in the week, Miller said the item was tabled because "there were not enough votes." The mayor was being polite.

Council members and staff, who asked to remain anonymous, said the council members had good reason to bury the funding request. They

Oddly, when The Weekly requested a copy of the job description from an Amphi secretary, we were directed to speak directly with Even at TUSD.

said they were being set up for Brenda Even. "Other (Wellness Center) positions are paid with Title 1 funds, why not this one? The only reason the city was being requested to contribute was to help Even avoid a known conflict of interest. That's not our job," said one irate informant.

Another source close to the council said knowing what the council knew, they were not about to get involved in the group's request for funding. "To do so," he said, "would cause the council to become complicit by showing favoritism to Even."

But some council watchers said opposition to the project has little or nothing to do with conflict of interest. Rather, they said, it involves mayoral politics--the Wellness Centers project is considered by some to be the mayor's pet. Also, Even is a volunteer in Miller's re-election campaign, and sources said forces opposed to the mayor stepped in to block this deal.

Amphi Superintendent Rick Wilson said the districts have been concerned about issues of conflict of interest all along. However, he added, officials were also concerned about being fair.

At one point the district officials discussed whether it would be wise to exclude Even from competing for the director's position, Wilson said. "But," he added, "she'd put several years of effort into (the Wellness Centers), and we thought it wouldn't be fair to her if we denied her a chance to compete for the position."

So, Wilson said, officials were careful to make sure funding for the administrative position did not put Even in a situation "where she could not compete." Wilson agreed that funding from the city and county would have solved Even's problem.

Currently the position is unfunded. But Wilson said the work of the Wellness Centers will go on. "Hopefully, Brenda Even will continue to coordinate the program as a volunteer," he said.

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May 4 - May 10, 1995

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