QUESTION: Sandy Ellington-Graves, chairman of the Alamance-Burlington school board, who is employed as a real estate agent, has been said to be the selling and buying agent for Dr. Dain Butler, ABSS superintendent. Was she? Did she profit, and is that legal? Is it appropriate, as she is his boss? And how many properties does he own?
ANSWER: Yes, Ellington-Graves did represent Butler and his wife, Kimberly Ann Butler, for their latest home purchase, a 2,582-square foot home at 2603 Churchill Drive in Burlington, according to the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS).
Butler and his wife closed on the $500,000 purchase of the home at 2603 Churchill Drive on September 25, based on a deed to the property subsequently filed with Alamance County’s Register of Deeds to consummate the transaction.
A listing posted on the local MLS also indicated that Ellington-Graves had represented the Butlers (as the sellers’ agent) when they sold their home at 213 Serendipity Drive in Graham on April 5 of this year. The buyer’s agent was listed as Debra A. Wynne of Premier Agents Network, according to the MLS.
The Alamance News sought to inquire with Ellington-Graves about whether she had collected commissions from any real estate transactions involving the Butlers.
The newspaper also sought to ask Ellington-Graves whether she feels it is appropriate to give the appearance of benefitting financially from her position on the board – or to have any involvement with the superintendent’s personal home sale and purchase, given her statutory obligation as a school board member to oversee the superintendent.
Ellington-Graves told The Alamance News Wednesday afternoon that, prior to either transaction involving the superintendent, she had consulted an attorney, whom she says assured her there was no conflict of interest.
Asked whether she had collected a commission from the sale of the Butlers’ home in Graham, Ellington-Graves said, “Why wouldn’t I? It’s business.”
Crista Cuccaro, an expert in government law, financing, and contracting with the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, confirmed for The Alamance News that the neither the chairman nor the superintendent had violated a state law that prohibits public officers or employees from benefitting financially from their public service.
Asked specifically whether the arrangement represented a conflict of interest, Cuccaro said in a recent interview, “That is not a violation of the law.”
That portion of state law, which is a criminal statute, prohibits public officials from “deriving a direct benefit from any contract in which he or she is involved” that directly affects the public agency which he or she serves, according to an analysis by the School of Government.
“A conflict of interest might be [a scenario in which] the school district owns a lot and decides, ‘we don’t want this lot anymore; we’re going to contract with the board chairman to list the lot and sell it,’” Cuccaro elaborated.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Butler explained his thinking in hiring Ellington-Graves as his real estate agent: he wanted to go with someone he knows and trusts.
“I picked Sandy; she didn’t pick me,” Butler told the newspaper. “She sold my house when I moved to Roanoke Rapids [in 2016]; she did a great job. I felt like I was on safe [legal] ground; it is my personal purchase. I was nothing but pleased.”
THE PUBLIC ASKS: Have a question about a matter of public record? Call The Alamance News at (336) 228-7851; write to the newspaper at P.O. Box 431, Graham, NC 27253; or e-mail email@example.com.
If it’s a topic in the public domain — a matter of public record, including issues of government, courts, etc. — we’ll try to find the answer and print it in ‘The Public Asks’ column. (Please furnish as much complete and specific information as possible.)
Note: Issues regarding businesses — including salaries, policies, and practices — are usually not matters of public record, unless they are the subject of governmental or regulatory action, a court suit, or law enforcement activity.