Papers in Richland superintendent probe paint a messy picture

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 17, 2013 

Fired Richland schools Superintendent Jim Busey told an investigator the school board wanted to hide revenues from the teachers union and asked voters for more bond money than is needed.

In documents obtained by the Herald using the state public records law, Busey claimed the $98 million bond measure passed by voters this week is $36 million too much.

The 221 pages of documents, including the investigator's notes and interviews and Busey's emails and phone records, also detail Busey's affair with an employee at a district elementary school. The investigation details a sexual video and photo the woman allegedly sent of herself to Busey's district cellphone.

The woman and other employees also told the investigator she'd begun to feel intimidated by Busey. However, any allegations made against Busey have been retracted, according to his attorney.

The Richland School Board used the interviews and other information in its decision to fire Busey on Jan. 22. He was dismissed for violating his contract's morals clause for having an affair with a district employee and for "threats to misrepresent" the district, as well as other claims. At the time, the district did not explain what Busey had threatened to misrepresent.

The district hired investigator Alan Key to look into the various allegations involving Busey after he was placed on administrative leave.

According to the investigation report, Busey told Key that he and the school board talked about shifting money around in the budget, specifically money paid to the district annually by the federal government in lieu of taxes for federally owned land.

Shifting the money could prevent the Richland Education Association from noticing how much money the district had to hire staff.

"We had those conversations. Not that you can't do it, because you surely can. You can do it by resolution, which we had done. You can do it by direct deposit. You can do it by spending some of that money that might have been budgeted elsewhere or the budget capacity," Busey told Key, according to a transcript of their conversation.

School board Chairman Rick Jansons on Friday denied the district ever hid money. He told the Herald that Busey's allegation was an idle threat and an attempt to keep the board from firing him.

"We don't hide money, period, for any reason," Jansons said. "Our books are open."

He also said the bond amount was vetted by professionals and the board thinks it barely will cover what is needed to replace aging and crowded schools.

"If he thought (the bond was too much), as a superintendent he should have expressed it," Jansons told the Herald.

Key spoke with Busey the day before he was fired. Busey said cost projections used to develop the bond were too high and he estimated that about $36 million would be left over when construction is finished.

"I probably should have had more discussion with the board about it," Busey said. "And I would have had a lot of discussion if I'd still been there about what are we going to do with the extra money that comes in."

The bond will pay for a new elementary school and new middle school, rebuild three elementary schools and a wing of Jefferson Elementary School, replace the heating and cooling system at a middle school, make improvements at Fran Rish Stadium and build a permanent home for the Three Rivers HomeLink alternative school. The district has about 11,300 students.

Busey's attorney, Brian Iller of Kennewick, told the Herald his client didn't have to tell the board the bond exceeded project needs because the board already knew that.

But Jansons told the Herald he and the board were shocked at Busey's claim. Jansons said the bond didn't include the cost to buy land for some of the projects or increasing construction costs.

If any money is left over, the district will have to hold public hearings to allow it to be used for other projects, he said.

Busey also told Key the board only chose to keep Jefferson Elementary School as a K-5 school for now to ensure the bond passed. The board initially planned to close the school until parents criticized the decision and threatened to defeat the bond.

Jansons told the Herald that the school board chose to keep Jefferson open because of the public's concerns. "There is no intention to shut it down," he said.

Key also looked into allegations that Busey had an extramarital affair with a district employee and pursued a relationship with a woman who worked closely with school district employees.

Key spoke with the women and other district employees aware of the relationships or rumored to have had a relationship with Busey.

Busey, who is going through a divorce, admits having a relationship with an employee at Jefferson Elementary since late 2011. He sent her hand-written love notes and she apparently texted him a video and an explicit photo of herself.

However, the woman, who also was married, told Key in early January that she backed away from the relationship because she said she was afraid of Busey.

One of the woman's co-workers told Key that the woman told her, "I'm afraid of him and his power. I have been intimidated by him for a while now. He throws money in my face saying I have spent thousands on you."

The woman who had the affair with Busey also reportedly told her co-worker that she heard Busey say he would take her and another woman "down with him," according to the investigation.

Iller said Busey never made that statement to the woman and that her credibility is questionable.

Key interviewed a woman who worked for another school district and was rumored to have had a relationship with Busey. She said they exchanged emails and they'd met once in Spokane but there was no sexual relationship.

Busey's wife told Key she suspected her husband of having three relationships with other women since they moved to Richland in 2010, based on his email and call logs and their conversations.

She said he'd also had an affair when they lived in Chelan, where he was the school superintendent.

According to Key's notes, she said Busey told her that he tried to initiate something with another Richland district employee at another elementary school after they'd separated and after the affair with the woman at Jefferson cooled.

However, when interviewed, the second employee said she'd never met privately with Busey, had only exchanged work-related emails with him and was in "total shock" at the rumors that they'd had an affair.

Iller said his client never had a sexual relationship with another woman during his time in Richland.

Busey told Key he didn't think his relationships were a conflict of interest or should cause a problem. However, at least two employees aware of the affair with the woman at Jefferson said it was disruptive and caused stress at the school. And those claims were cited by the board at the time Busey was fired.

Last week, Iller notified the district that his client was illegally terminated because no pretermination hearing was held and he should be allowed to return to work.

Iller also claimed in his letter that the district did not provide the Herald all documents that it requested in connection with the Busey investigation.

"That proposed response includes none of the documentation created during the original investigation of the affair in November 2012," the letter said.

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