Ex-bus driver files ethics complaint

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An ethics complaint against past and present employees of the board of education was filed with the County's ethics commission last week by one of the school bus drivers whose contract was not renewed, in spite of three years of excellent evaluations.

Larry Barlar filed the ethics complaint with Mary Ann Neill, chairwoman of both the County commission and its ethics committee, on July 22.

"I'm doing this as a citizen and a former employee. I either witnessed these acts or I have information from other witnesses who are willing to testify," said Barlar. "The reason I didn't report this while I was an employee of the Board of Education is because I knew I would be terminated if I did," he explained.

Barlar is already experiencing repercussions from filing the complaint.

"I saw one of the guys I named in it at Wal-Mart yesterday, and if looks could kill I wouldn't be here today," Barlar said jokingly.

Complaint alleges

The ethics complaint names director of schools Stan Curtis, human resources director Mitchell Byrd, and former transportation supervisor Glen Ezell. The letter of complaint also states, "There will be other Board of Education employees named in this documentation, but your investigation will determine the degree of culpability of every Board of Education employee named."

Barlar's main complaints are:

* his personnel file was released to a school board member by the human resources department without any of his confidential information redacted from it.

* money from the sale of school bus tires "doesn't seem to be clearly accounted for."

The complaint alleges that Ezell was selling tires to Stoney's Wrecker Service and to Tommy Liggett, and that tires were removed prematurely from school buses and sold while they still had enough tread left on them to meet safety standards.

* bus garage facilities and tools have been improperly used. The complaint alleges Ezell worked on family members' and friends' cars at the garage and allowed other mechanics to do the same. Cars owned by transportation secretary Beth Isley and her daughter were worked on at the bus garage. The maintenance department also used the bus garage: supervisor Sheldon Davis did a brake replacement on his son's car and employees Ricky Tears and Willard Fralix borrowed valuable tools.

The complaint further alleges that Ezell bought carburetor cleaner in five-gallon containers, and allowed former employee Johnny Flynt Sr. to clean lawnmower carburetors for his lawnmower repair service at the bus garage.

Comments on the complaint

"I've seen it," Curtis said. "I don't know what the purpose of it is - I guess it's his choice. I don't think we're doing anything ethically wrong. It just seems like a lot of finger pointing to me. I've never been accused of anything inappropriate like that."

"I have seen it," acknowledged Byrd, adding, "I have no comment on that." Byrd is doubly involved in the complaint because the human resources department released Barlar's personnel file, and because Byrd is the person to whom the transportation supervisor is supposed to report.

Ezell also received a copy of Barlar's complaint, but when asked if he wanted to make any comments said, "I'm not going to give any interviews over the phone."

School board member and former bus driver Curt Denton had not received notice of the ethics complaint until the Tribune provided him with a copy.

After reading the four-page letter, Denton said, "I'm not going to deny anything in here, but I'm not going to confirm anything either. I'd better wait and see where it goes.

"This could go somewhere," Denton added.

Randy Lowe, formerly the lead mechanic at the bus garage, did not have his contract renewed for next year.

"I'm thinking about filing a complaint myself," Lowe said.

When asked if Barlar's allegations could be true, Lowe said, "I knew all that was going on. There need to be some big changes made out there. I knew they were selling tires ever since I've been there (9 years).

"They got rid of me because I tried to get them to look at a couple of things that's plumb dangerous for kids," Lowe continued. "I went to Byrd personally about a certain guy; they finally got rid of him when he got in trouble with the law. If you put your kids on the buses you're taking a risk. There's several drivers need to be looked at - I don't know how some of them pass the physical.

"Seems to me like the message is: keep your mouth shut or you'll be fired," concluded Lowe. "If you say anything they're going to fire you. Just speaking up is why they got rid of them (Barlar and the other two bus drivers). Curtis can do whatever he wants. If some of those people (school board members) really knew what was going on they wouldn't back him."

Ezell took over the job of supervisor of transportation in May 2007, when Johnny Flynt Sr. retired after almost 33 years of service, and resigned in June 2009. Effective July 1, the supervisor is Michael Frey, a former teacher, and Ezell is lead mechanic.

Frey "surely don't know what's going on; he's walked into a hornets' nest," in Lowe's opinion, but he'll find out. "All you got to do is sit out there - you see a lot of things going on," concluded Lowe.

"They can't take their money to the grave, but I can take my principles," summed up Barlar.