Sunnyside has contract with company that pays board member

2013-10-08T00:00:00Z 2013-10-09T21:17:06Z Sunnyside has contract with company that pays board memberBy Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The Sunnyside Unified School District has entered into an agreement with a prepaid legal service company that employs one of the district’s Governing Board members.

Governing Board member Bobby Garcia works for LegalShield, which allows customers to have access to a lawyer for a monthly fee.

The district used its email to notify its employees they could sign up for what was described as “a district-sponsored benefit opportunity.”

The district also helped organize a meeting between the company and district employees in district facilities and set up payroll deduction to collect LegalShield fees.

Garcia, who was elected in November 2012, disclosed his employment with the company to Sunnyside officials earlier this year, according to district documents.

His role with LegalShield is not clear. However, documents show Garcia has made money from individual customer relationships with district employees.

And he received a white BMW after he was named to the company’s “Performance Club,” according to the company’s Web page.

Garcia did not return phone calls requesting comment.

Sunnyside will discuss its partnership with LegalShield at tonight’s Governing Board meeting after receiving questions from the community regarding the district’s relationship with the company, said district spokeswoman Mary Veres.

Governing Board President Louie Gonzales said the board decided to discuss the matter because board member Buck Crouch posed some questions.

The company has been involved with the district to varying extents for about 20 years, Gonzales said.

“Different people sell it,” he said, referring to employees and other officials who have been involved with the company through the years.

In a Feb. 4 letter, an attorney advised district officials that Garcia should fill out a form indicating a “substantial” interest in LegalShield’s provision of services to district employees.

The attorney also said Garcia should refrain from engaging in any Governing Board discussion or voting pertaining to the company, or discuss its services with employees when he’s acting as a board member.

The letter said Garcia did receive “some kind of financial benefit” as a result of the individual relationships with district employees.

Crouch acknowledged he had concerns, although he wasn’t aware the item was put on the board agenda because of his questions.

Crouch said he and board members should have been notified sooner of Garcia’s relationship to LegalShield.

“The board should’ve been informed ahead of time, especially since the board member has a potential conflict of interest,” he said. “It’s not required, but it’s a good courtesy.”

Sunnyside’s Governing Board did not have to approve the partnership with the company during any board meetings because they are not spending district money, said district Chief Financial Officer Hector Encinas in a board document.

The district entered into an agreement to set up payroll deductions in August after Encinas met with a company official.

LegalShield representatives are only supposed to make presentations to district employees during lunch breaks and before and after school.

However, last Tuesday, Veres sent an email to district employees, notifying them of a meeting with LegalShield at 10 a.m. the next morning at the district’s administration boardroom.

The district will also set up on-site opportunities at other schools for future presentations, she said in a subsequent email.

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4115. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4115. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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