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Legal charges against Park dropped

Superintendent George Park

Sun Advocate publisher

The charges that were filed against suspended Carbon County School District Superintendent George Park this fall in Panguitch are in the process of being dropped, according Jerry D. Jaeger, the special prosecutor looking into the allegations against the former Garfield County school leader.

"After interviewing Mr. Park we were able to get more information about the case," said Jaeger in a telephone interview from his office in St. George on Monday morning. "The charges against him are being dropped. However he is a witness in the other case that is pending."

That testimony that is being required of Park is in connection with the case against former Garfield County School District business manager Justin Baugh, whom Park was supervising while he was superintendent of the district in 2008.

Baugh, 38, was arrested by Garfield County Sheriff deputies in West Jordan in May for alleged wrong-doing in the district. At the time Baugh was charged with three felony counts of misuse of public money, communications fraud, and tampering with a witness. Misuse of public money and communications fraud are second degree felonies and tampering with a witness is a third degree felony. The tampering charge came from allegations that Baugh had directed Garfield employees to shred some evidence that could shed light on the case. By the time he was arrested, Baugh had accepted and was working in the Canyon School District in Salt Lake County in another administrative job.

Park, who took over the reins of running Carbon School District from Patsy Bueno in May of this year, was arrested on Aug. 6 as he returned to the Carbon District office from a meeting at the district bus garage.

At the time Park was arrested on a warrant out of the Sixth District Court in Garfield County that was issued on Aug. 5. The warrant alleged that Park misused public monies while superintendent of the Garfield County School District, the district he worked for for four years before being hired at Carbon. The charges on the warrant were considered second degree felonies.

During a special board meeting that afternoon, the Carbon School Board put him on administrative leave until the matter was resolved. Initially they set up a panel of people to temporarily run the operations fo the district, but within a week the just recently retired superintendent, Patsy Bueno, was asked and agreed to be a termporary replacement for Park.

Park's paid administrative leave status was changed on Oct. 1 to non-paid administrative leave by the board.

An initial hearing for Park in early September was delayed and set back. Then the county attorney's office in Panguitch turned the prosecution of the case over to the Washington County Attorney's office. It was at that time Jaeger was named the special prosecutor in the case.

During the ensuing time Park's attorney, Fred Metos of Salt Lake had been working with the Washington County Attorney's office. On Sept. 30 Park and Fred Metos, Park's lawyer, were present at the intial appearance with Judge Marvin D. Bagley, Jaeger and other officials to discuss the case. During that meeting the defendant brought forth a number of pieces of evidence from discovery that convinced Jaeger that the charges should be dropped. Why those charges were not dropped immediatelly has not been ascertained but on Thursday of last week Metos got an email from Jaeger that stated that the case was being dismissed "without prejudice (and) with the understanding that George continues to cooperate with us."

The charges against Park revolved around supposed irregularities concerning three areas of concern.

*One was a dispute over his compensation concerning contributions to his 401K by Garfield School District (which the charges stating that he gave himself a higher contribution to the fund than had been approved by the Garfield County School Board).

*Two, were charges that he paid bonuses to himself and "took a raise contrary to his previous agreement that no raise would be given in lieu of a 401K increase."

*Three, that Park had signed a fraudulent contract for Baugh "and by doing so he intentionally aided Baugh in the misuse of public funds."

Board shuts recorder

Park met with the Sun Advocate on Monday morning and explained the situation concerning these charges. First, when interviewed the board members who were present at the executive session where his 401K payment was discussed, when questioned by authorities, could not remember how much they had actually approved. He said that one thought it was five percent, while another thought it was 15 percent. The board president at the time, in a deposition said he couldn't be sure, but thought it was 10 percent. After reviewing tapes of the meeting, it was found that someone in the room had shut the tape recorder that was documenting the meeting off during the discussion concerning the 401K discussion. The shutting off of the recorder, in fact, was actually discussed by the board before it was done.

Law misunderstood

The charges concerning the bonus situation came from a misunderstanding concerning House Bill 382 that the legislature approved in 2007. In that bill the legislature provided money for certified employees to keep them from going out of state to take more lucrative jobs. The increase was meant only for teachers and not for district administrators, but because Park's contract was set up so any increases the teachers got he received as well, he was paid the money. Baugh was the one that paid it out so it appeared that Park was involved with Baugh's actions.

"I didn't even know I was getting it until I had the check in my hands," said Park.

Finally was Baugh's alleged fraudulent contract, which is one of the things Baugh is being prosecuted for. Park signed the contract along with the board president in good faith.

Contract altered

"I met with Jason about what he wanted in his contract and he mentioned many things that I knew the board would not approve," said Park who explained that superintendents and business managers around the state have what is considered to be a special relationship with boards, in that they negotiate their own contracts. "I told him that some of what he was asking for just would not fly. So the contract that went to the board was the one we had agreed upon. I never signed the one that came out with all the enhancements in it."

When the contract was reviewed by auditors in 2008, it included many of the things that Baugh had wanted and it appeared it had been signed by the two officials. The contract looks official, but the last page (which is the only one that has signatures on it) contains only a single paragraph and the signature lines. The changes had allegedly been made in the prior pages, presumably by Baugh.

What will happen now concerning Park's employment with Carbon School District is still up in the air, however. The state school boards UPPAC (Utah Professional Practice Advisory Commission) still needs to complete its investigation into the situation, according to sources at the UPPAC office in Salt Lake. Jean Hill, the investigator for UPPAC was not available for comment on Monday.

The Carbon Board of Education will meet in their regular monthly meeting on Wednesday evening and a discussion concerning the superintendent's contract is on the agenda.

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