Fredericktown school board

Nathan Bellman (left), Don Falk (middle) and Paul Napier (right) take the oath to assume their roles on the Fredericktown school board. 

FREDERICKTOWN – Fredericktown board members Nathan Bellman and Paul Napier took office Tuesday despite an informal opinion from the Ohio attorney general's office advising them not to.

The informal opinion stated the two board members’ employment at Knox County Career Center and simultaneous service on the Fredericktown school board was incompatible because of conflicts of interest. Bellman runs marketing and communications for KCCC, and Napier works as technology coordinator for KCCC.

After district treasurer Heather Darnold swore in the Bellman, Napier and the third newly elected member Don Falk during the board’s Jan. 11 meeting, board member Todd McClay read a statement about the opinion.

The statement reads that Bellman and Napier's legal counsel and Knox County Prosecutor Chip McConville have begun discussions to figure out a way for the board members to avoid conflicts of interest. 

Newly elected school board members

District treasurer Heather Darnold (left) swears in three newly elected school board members Tuesday. 

“Since receiving the opinion from the Ohio Attorney General on the compatibility of positions for Paul Napier and Nathan Bellman, identifying several conflicts their service on the board may cause, the Knox County prosecutor and counsel for the gentlemen have been discussing how the conflicts may be addressed, while affording Napier and Bellman the opportunity to serve on the board and continue in their employment with the Knox County Career Center," McClay said. 

"That resolution has not yet been finalized but is being explored."

McClay said the matter will only involve the school board in a tangential way.

“The issue will remain an issue exclusively between the gentlemen, the prosecuting attorney and the Ohio Attorney General," McClay said. "It will not be an issue involving the board of education, though it could have implications for the board. It is an obligation of the board, as an entity, to comply with the law and to avoid conflicts of interest.

"Once the issue was raised, it was properly disclosed to the prosecuting attorney. The parties look forward to working together on a resolution of this issue.” 

Bellman and Napier declined interviews but provided statements to Knox Pages about taking office Tuesday.

“I appreciate all of the support from those who elected me to the School Board. I look forward to serving the students and staff, who are our top priority, at Fredericktown Local Schools,” Bellman wrote.

Similarly, Napier wrote, “The support from the Fredericktown community has been overwhelming. I look forward to serving our students, staff, and community of Fredericktown.”

Assistant Attorney General Byers Emmerling offered the informal opinion about the board members in a Dec. 22 letter to McConville.

McConville asked for the opinion at the request of the attorney for the Fredericktown school district.

The informal opinion is not an official statement of the attorney general’s views on the question but rather an analysis of the situation by the assistant attorney general.  

Bellman received the most votes in the November election, 902, compared with the other six candidates that ran for office. Napier received the second-most votes with 670 respectively, according to the official results.

This is a developing story and will be added to as more information becomes available. 

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Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.

Emma Davis is a 2021 graduate of the University of Richmond, from which she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and leadership studies. Emma reports for Knox Pages and Ashland Source through Report for America.