Watchdog group accuses Fresno Unified trustee of conflicting interests

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This past spring, Brooke Ashjian came under fire from the district after his company was listed as a subcontractor for a multi-million dollar school project the board approved. (KFSN)

A Fresno Unified School board member is coming under fire from a local watchdog group and the district claims he violated a California education code about conflict of interest.

Brooke Ashjian said he's an open book, stating "Let me state unequivocally, I have never done business with Fresno Unified since I've been on this board."

This past spring, Ashjian came under fire from the district after his company Seal Rite Paving was listed as a subcontractor for Nelson Construction, which was awarded a multi-million dollar bid to revamp Fig Garden Elementary School. A group called the Fresno Watchdogs for Ethical Bidding made the complaint, which prompted Ashjian to remove his company's bid on the project. He claims it was made without his knowledge.

"We feel that he has been acting unethically," said Kenneth Mackie, the group's attorney.

Mackie said they submitted another inquiry to the board back in June about possible further conflict of interest votes. The move prompted the district to ask Ashjian for an updated 700 Form, which lists the companies Ashjian has contracts with and could present conflicts of interest.

An Action News investigation found he approved at least two contracts with construction companies he listed on his 700 Form. Ashjian insists there's no conflict, though, because he never worked on any of the projects, which include the more than $2 million construction at Addicott Elementary School. Ashjian is a vocal opponent of Superintendent Michael Hanson and several administrators.

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The full interview with Brooke Ashjian.

"I'm a big boy I'm not a crybaby but when you upset the apple cart of the powers that be and the same protocol which has been going on and on at Fresno Unified its not going to go lightly," Ashjian said.

"When you point a finger at somebody else, you have three fingers pointed back at yourself and Mr. Ashjian has been pointing a finger for a long time at the superintendent," Mackie said. "Meantime, he has been involved in voting where he has a conflict of interest."

In a statement provided to Action News, Fresno Unified said it requested information from Ashjian regarding his conflicts of interests and, "The district anticipates receipt of further information from member Ashjian regarding his amended Form 700."

ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi said it's really up to the district to refer the situation to an investigating agency for a full review and possible consequences.

"Clearly an office holder should never vote on a project that goes to a company that you have ownership in," he said. "It becomes ambiguous as to whether or not you should vote on a contract that goes to a company that you had done prior business with that could be a problem but again it's ambiguous."

As for what happens now, it's possible Fresno Unified may have to stop payments on contracts that they believe Ashjian may have a conflict of interest in or revote on all of the projects just so he can abstain from voting on them.

Ashjian released his full 700 Form, here.

The Fresno Unified School District issued a statement in response to this story, stating:

"On September 8, 2016 the District received an amended Form 700 Statement of Economic Interest that Brooke Ashjian had filed with the Clerk for the Fresno County Board of Supervisors on September 1, 2016. The District anticipates receipt of further information from Member Ashjian regarding his amended Form 700."
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