BAR HARBOR — Marc Gousse, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS), may have violated the school system’s code of conduct regarding purchasing and contracting by accepting two tickets from Cross Insurance to the New England Patriots football game Sept. 24.
He has since asked Cross to bill him for the tickets, for which Cross paid $125 each.
The MDIRSS board first adopted the code of conduct as a policy in 2013 and re-adopted it this past January. It states that school system employees “are prohibited from accepting money or things of material value from persons or entities doing business with, or desiring to do business with, the school unit.”
The policy also states: “Employees may accept unsolicited items of nominal value such as those that are generally distributed by a company or organization through its public relations program.”
Gousse indicated on Tuesday that he believes it is that section of the policy that applies in this situation. He has said of accepting the tickets, “This is something that in my previous district was not at all out of the norm.”
He was superintendent of schools in Westbrook for five years before assuming his current position in July 2016.
Gousse and MDI High School Athletic Director Bunky Dow attended the Patriots’ game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., with tickets that Cross Insurance gave Gousse. They also attended a pregame lunch reception that Cross hosted at the stadium.
Two weeks earlier, two Cross representatives had come to the high school at Gousse’s invitation to explain a health insurance option to several dozen teachers and other school employees. Gousse said the insurance plan, which is offered by a number of companies including Cross, could lower costs for the schools and their employees without compromising the level of coverage. He said he hoped teachers would consider it.
The teachers’ union representatives and a school board negotiating team are currently working to craft a new three-year collective bargaining agreement, and insurance benefits are a significant factor in those negotiations.
The schools’ code of conduct for purchasing and contracting states that all employees “shall perform their duties in a manner free from conflict of interest to ensure that the school unit’s business transactions are made in compliance with applicable laws and regulations and in a manner that maintains public confidence in the schools.”
The code says that employees who have a “real or apparent” conflict of interest must disclose that to the superintendent, “who will investigate the circumstances of the proposed transaction.”
“In the event that the superintendent may have a conflict of interest, an ad hoc subcommittee of the board will investigate and make a determination regarding the transaction.”
Heather Jones, chairman of the MDIRSS board, said in an email Tuesday, “The situation is a personnel matter and the board will address it accordingly.”
The code of conduct states that school system employees who violate the code “may be subject to discipline, up to and including termination of employment and, if appropriate, referral to law enforcement.”
After it became known that Gousse had accepted the football game tickets from Cross Insurance, some school personnel and others questioned whether that constituted a conflict of interest.
Gousse has insisted that he did nothing improper, and on Sept. 29, he asked Cross Insurance to bill him for the cost of the tickets to avoid even the appearance of a conflict.
“I don’t want there to be any question about my integrity,” he told the Islander. “My integrity is more important to me than a ticket to a game or event.”
Cross Insurance Vice President Allen Robbins assured Gousse in an Oct. 3 email that he had been invited to the Patriots game “under no conditions or expectations from me or Cross Insurance for any future business.”
The Westbrook School Department has a policy titled: “Purchasing and Contracting: Conflict of Interest.” It says nothing about accepting personal gifts from a vendor or potential vendor. It only prohibits a school employee who has a financial interest in a company from being involved in a decision to award a contract to that company.
Both the MDIRSS and Westbrook codes of conduct cite as “legal reference” the Code of Federal Regulations. The section of that code on “Ethics for Government Service” states that an employee should “never accept, for himself or herself or family members, favors or benefits under circumstances which might be construed by reasonable persons as influencing the performance of governmental duties.”