Rep. Kelly Fenton (R-53B) School District Referendum Conflict of Interest

Representative Kelly Fenton (R-53B)
Representative Kelly Fenton (R-53B)
Representative Kelly Fenton (R-53B)

All three school districts in Representative Kelly Fenton’s 53B district held bond and levy referendum elections this year: ISD 622 (Maplewood/Oakdale/North St. Paul), ISD 833 (Woodbury/Cottage Grove/St. Paul Park/Newport) and ISD 834 (Stillwater Area Schools).  ISD 622 and ISD 833 held their elections on Nov. 3; with ISD 622’s referendum failing to pass, and ISD 833 residents passing the 10 year $10.3 million/year operating levy, rejecting a $46.5 million bond, and passing by 19 votes a $96 million bond that is currently being challenged in court.

On May 12, 2015, ISD 834 (Stillwater area schools) voters passed a $97.5 million bond referendum.  The bond is slated for a variety of projects, including a new elementary school (located in northern Woodbury), additions to Stillwater High School and remodeling of Oak-Land Middle School.

An Alpha News investigation has revealed that Fenton’s husband, Greg Fenton, is a Principal with BWBR, the architecture firm hired by ISD 834:

According to the contract, BWBR will receive a lump sum of $35,000 for pre-referendum services. If the referendum passes and work on the plan begins, the school district will pay BWBR a lump sum fee of 6.5 percent of the construction costs. If the project’s construction costs the estimated $97.5 million, the architecture fee would be about $6.3 million. ~ Stillwater Gazette, January 19, 2015

Did a conflict of interest cause Representative Kelly Fenton to remain silent on the three school district bond and levy referendum elections held in her district this year?

Politicians from every level came out in support of the school districts’ referendum requests. Democrats’ photos were included in ads and on the Facebook pages of the referendum supporter committees, with some of the DFL politicians joining the district leaders during referendum information sessions and actively working to help with the GOTV efforts.  The DFL involvement was especially true for the South Washington County ISD 833 referendum.

ISD 833 DFL politicians show their support for the district’s Nov. 2015 bond & levy referendum. Senator Katie Sieben, Senator Susan Kent, Representative Dan Schoen, Representative JoAnn Ward, Commissioner Karla Bigham, Mayor Tim Geraghty, Newport, Mayor Keith Franke, St. Paul Park, Mayor Myron Bailey, Cottage Grove Council Member Justin Olsen, Cottage Grove Council Member Jen Peterson, Cottage Grove

In past elections, ISD 834 DFL and GOP politicians have been known to actively support Stillwater School District’s referendum elections. This year, however, few, if any, GOP politicians expressed opposition or support for any of the districts’ referendum requests. This was particularly true in District 833: the GOP leaders chose to remain “neutral” if asked for their referendum stance. Representative Fenton joined her GOP colleagues  – neither coming out for or against any of the school district referendum questions.

Representative Fenton lives in ISD 833 making her ineligible to vote in the ISD 834 referendum election. If the BWBR $6.3 million contract created a conflict of interest that prevented Fenton from expressing support or opposition for ISD 834’s May 2015 referendum, what stopped her from publicly offering her opinion on the ISD 833 referendum? ISD 833 has contracted with ARY Architects, not BWBR, for its proposed buildings, with Kraus Anderson contracted as the proposed projects’ Construction Management company.

Kraus Anderson is also working with BWBR on the Stillwater school projects:

Kraus-Anderson and BWBR are currently working with the district on plans for construction of a new elementary school and high school addition, both scheduled to break ground next year.

Did the relationship between BWBR and Kraus Anderson also cause a conflict of interest for Fenton and cause her decision to “remain neutral” on the ISD 833 referendum questions?

Representative Fenton based her 2014 campaign on a platform of conservative ideals and fiscal responsibility. According to her campaign website:

Kelly Fenton Fiscal Responsibility

“Fiscal restraint and effective, smart government…” in St. Paul, but not in her own district?

*Representative Fenton was unable to be reached for comment.

Updated 12:50pm 12/08/2015