Fresno Unified trustee responds to conflict of interest accusation

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) —

A fight continues to escalate within the Fresno Unified School District over a trustee’s vote during a meeting earlier this year. A group calling itself the Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding has asked the district to take legal action against trustee Brooke Ashjian, and now Ashjian is fighting back.

Ken Mackie, a lawyer representing the watchdog group, showed up to the Fresno Unified School Board meeting this week, asking trustees to file a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, or FPPC, regarding Brooke Ashjian.

“The way he did it, both unethical and against the law,” he said. “You don’t change the vote by changing the minutes.”

During the June 1 board meeting, Ashjian voted to approve a $9 million bid to Bush Construction on the consent agenda. Cut to two weeks later and photos show Ashjian speaking to district officials about him meaning to abstain from the vote – not approve the bid – for Bush Construction, .a company in which he has a financial interest.

“The intent certainly was there to change his vote from a “Yes” vote to an abstention,” Mackie said. “It violates the law in my opinion and based upon the research I’ve done.”

Mackie said Ashjian has a clear conflict of interest with his vote. Documents from a Public Records Act request show Brooke Ashjian had already entered into an over $700,000 contract with Bush Construction to work with another school district. Ashjian owns a company, Seal Rite Paving, which was awarded a bid to do work at an elementary school. The agreements were made prior to the June 1 vote.

“That presents a conflict of interest because Bush Construction Company is a source of income to Mr. Ashjian at the same time he’s voting in favor of a $9 million contract to Bush Construction Company,” Mackie explained.

In a statement provided to Action News, Fresno Unified said:

“Since trustee Ashjian’s financial conflict of interest issue was brought to the district’s attention, we have made five unsuccessful attempts to obtain the necessary disclosures from him. His failure to cooperate has not allowed us to determine the extent of the Government Code 1090 implications and has put Fresno Unified’s relationships with dozens of local businesses at risk.”

In response, Ashjian issued his own statement:

“I have been in compliance with financial disclosure rules as set forth by the California Government Code. As a successful businessman, I have gone above and beyond most of my colleagues at Fresno Unified in ensuring to disclose all of my financial interests and avoid any conflicts.”

Ashjian said he has also hired a top conflict of interest attorney out of Sacramento to defend him in this matter.

As for who is behind the bidding watchdog group, Mackie said he can’t disclose that information because it violates attorney-client privilege. Ashjian said he will not comment anymore on this issue until the transparency of who is financially back the watchdog group is revealed.

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