[nfbmi-talk] is this a conflict of interests? hell yes by any measure...

joe harcz Comcast joeharcz at comcast.net
Wed Feb 1 15:03:14 CST 2012

January 30, 2012


Janet McClelland, Executive Secretary 

State Board of Ethics

Michigan Department of Civil Service 

P.O. Box 30002 

Lansing, MI 48909


Dear Ms. McCIelland:


I am requesting an Advisory Opinion as to whether ethical concerns exist because a manager working for the Michigan Commission for the Blind (MCB) also serves as a member of the New Horizons board, a non-profit service organization.


The Commission is a public rehabilitation agency, located within the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) providing an array of services to individuals who are blind or visually impaired, including vocational rehabilitation services, independent living services for the older blind, youth low vision services for visually impaired students in the K-12 system, as well as our Business Enterprise Program (BEP), serving as the State Licensing Agency (SLA) for blind entrepreneurs running food service facilities on State and Federal properties.  MCB also operates a residential Training Center in Kalamazoo, where students learn skills of blindness to aid them on their path toward independence.


The Commission was created by Public Act 260 of 1978, and under the statute the Commission board is comprised of five members appointed by the Governor.  Each Commissioner serves for a 3 year term with at least 3 of the 5 appointees being legally blind and each serves as a voting member of the Board.


New Horizons is a nationally recognized, private, not-for-profit rehabilitation agency providing quality vocational training and job placement in Michigan since 1964 with a primary goal focused on preparing people with disabilities for competitive employment and providing the necessary skills for consumers to assume responsibility for their own long-term success.  New Horizons works with referral and funding sources to help make employment services more readily available and accessible to persons with disabilities.


The ethics question which has prompted this request for an Advisory Opinion centers on Ms. Gwen McNeal, the Manager of the Commission’s Detroit Office, who also serves as a New Horizons board member.  A conflict of interest question has been raised by a commissioner, as well as by one of two blind consumer organizations in the state, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) of Michigan in a resolution adopted at the organization’s state convention last November.  All three commissioners are also NFB members, and the Commission’s vice-chair is also the President of NFB of Michigan.


Ms. McNeal was first appointed to the New Horizons Board in 2008, with the verbal support and approval of her supervisor, Leamon Jones, MCB’s Director of Consumer Services.  Ms. McNeal contends that her service on the board is not in conflict with her duties as MCB Southeast Region Manager, asserting that at no time did she, as a board member, vote on anything coming before the board related to financial interactions, contractual arrangements or programmatic services with the Commission.  She also rejects as false the contentions of the NFB resolution challenging her board service as a conflict of interest.


In addition to the points raised in this letter you will also find several attachments that may be helpful in formulating an opinion.  These attachments include several pieces of correspondence and excerpts from minutes.


Is it a conflict of interest under the State Ethics Act, MCL 15.342, for Gwen McNeal, a state employee and Manager of MCB’s Southeast Region, to continue to serve on the Board of New Horizons?  Thank you for considering our request for an Advisory Opinion on these issues.  If you would like any additional information please contact me directly at 335-4265.






Patrick D. Cannon

State Director


Cc:    Steve Arwood

          Gwen McNeal

          New Horizons?

          Marie Lisle

          Melanie Brown

          Leamon Jones

          Larry Posont


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