Montogomery Co. school board member pays back almost $1,500 in unauthorized expenses

Montgomery County Board of Education member and County Council candidate Christopher S. Barclay has reimbursed the school system for nearly $1,500 in unauthorized expenses since 2012, including restaurant meals and purchases from an online travel site, records show.

The expenses were charged to a board-issued credit card that members and other senior school officials may use for meals, travel and lodging related to official business. School system spokesman Dana Tofig said Thursday that the personal expenses on Barclay’s card were flagged during a monthly review of card use. He said Barclay has fully repaid the school system.

The reimbursements were first disclosed by the Parents’ Coalition of Montgomery County, a watchdog group that presses the school system for greater transparency. The information came in response to a public records request, and WJLA (Channel 7) reported on the expenses Wednesday.

Records show that Barclay (Silver Spring) used the card last June and July for more than $900 in purchases from the Hotwire travel site and has since reimbursed the school system for that amount. The records did not detail the nature of the purchases.

Also requiring reimbursement by Barclay were a series of restaurant meals in October 2012; receipts accompanying the records did not name other participants. The meals were at Armand’s in Silver Spring ($20.12), Gordon Biersch in Rockville ($46.00) and a Popeyes in Takoma Park ($9.84).

About three months passed between the restaurant charges to the card and Barclay’s cash reimbursement to the school system in late January.

Barclay, 53, a two-term board member who is running in next month’s Democratic primary for the open District 5 County Council seat, which covers eastern Montgomery, did not respond to phone or e-mail messages Thursday.

In a statement released by his campaign, he expressed regret for the inappropriate card use.

“This has been a teaching moment for me,” Barclay said, adding that the school board should consider following the practice of the County Council, whose members do not use county-issued credit cards.

Barclay has spoken before of personal financial stress. In an interview this year, he said he has not had private-sector employment since his job as a project manager for Verizon ended several years ago. He said his sole source of income has been his $18,500 annual salary as a school board member. In the years he served as president of the board (2010 and 2013), he received an additional $4,000. He also said a recent divorce and college tuition for his daughters have added to the strain.

“I have approached my duty as a school board member as a full-time job,” he said in the statement. “Expenses reimbursed by the county reflect time spent working as a member of the board, including engaging parents and students in the community.”

Some of the expenditures listed on the credit card records are clearly schools-related. There is a $745 charge for two nights with room service at the Washington Hilton on Feb. 13 and 14, when, according to receipts, Barclay attended the National School Boards Association’s Advocacy Institute. The program helps board members become effective legal and legislative advocates.

Barclay also charged $681.09 for two nights at the same hotel in January 2013, records show, for a meeting of the Federal Relations Network, another school boards association program to help board members engage with members of Congress.

The school system did not respond to a question about whether the hotel expenses were justified, given that the conferences were so close to Montgomery County.

Records also show numerous restaurant meal expenditures that were approved by the Board of Education’s chief of staff, Roland Ikheloa, even though the receipts did not name other participants. These include Jewel of India in Silver Spring ($47), with a receipt that said “meeting with constituent,” and the Austin Grill in Silver Spring ($32) for a “student meeting.”

Board of Education President Phil Kauffman (At Large) had no comment Thursday on Barclay’s reimbursements but said he had created an ad hoc committee April 25 to look at expense policies, including whether board members should have access to school district credit cards.

“Different board members have different interpretations of our procedures — what’s appropriate, and not, to charge,” Kauffman said, expressing interest in more uniform practices. “There are areas that I think need to be clarified.”

In the race for the District 5 council seat (Silver Spring and Eastern Montgomery), Barclay is running against state Del. Tom Hucker, former CNN journalist Evan Glass, community activist Terrill North and nonprofit leader Jeffrey Thames.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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