A Plastic Problem

When former Warren County School District Superintendent Brandon Hufnagel left the district after less than two years of a five-year contract he may have felt pressure to get out.

The school board and Hufnagel apparently separated on amicable terms, with both parties expressing regrets.

In February, acting on reports of financial impropriety, the Times Observer filed a Right-to-Know request with the district for documents related to Hufnagel’s district expenditures.

The Times Observer received the requested information on Tuesday.

On March 20, the Times Observer received a letter from Hufnagel sent from his personal email account. In that letter, Hufnagel said he made a “mistake” and paid a bill at Seneca Allegany Casino with a school district credit card.

He said upon discovering the mistake he immediately informed the school board, apologized, and repaid the district account.

According to the Right-to-Know information, Hufnagel used the district card for six transactions at Seneca Allegany Casino on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. Three of the charges were for $1,070, two for $540, and one for $1,585 – a total of $5,875.

There were no further details of the transactions.

“The district’s business office received a special alert from the district’s card issuer on the Thursday afternoon following the card charges,” Warren County School Board President Arthur Stewart said on Tuesday. “The district’s administration contacted Brandon to learn if the district’s card was in his possession or if it was missing.”

“That Thursday afternoon (Jan. 24) I received contact from the district administration and Brandon, who both asked for an opportunity to meet with the board about this matter,” he said.

The meeting was set up for the following day.

“Brandon informed the board that he had utilized the district card at a casino, on several occasions, over a period of days,” Stewart said. “Brandon told us that the use of the district card was not intentional, that he had a group of credit cards with him, and that he simply confused the district card with a similar-looking personal card.”

Still, using taxpayer dollars to pay almost $6,000 at a casino put Hufnagel in a bad spot.

“While Brandon denied any intentional wrongdoing, he recognized that the use of the card was what he termed a very dumb mistake and he recognized that it put the district in a difficult position,” Stewart said. “Brandon apologized to the board for creating that predicament.”

“It was embarrassing and I immediately informed the board when I realized the error,” Hufnagel wrote in his email to the Times Observer. “Payment was made to the bank to cover the expenses and I apologized for the error.”

“Brandon did make that payment in the promised timeframe and the district’s business office has reviewed all credit card charges and has found all to be properly accounted for,” Stewart said.

On Feb. 5, Hufnagel tendered his resignation to the board.

The following day, the district received a cashier’s check from Hufnagel in the amount of $5,875.

In his letter to the Times Observer, Hufnagel said he resigned on his own terms and was not forced out by the district.

Stewart backed that up. “It was his decision,” he said.

However, the board was prepared to investigate further.

“Brandon could have remained in his position, and if he did so the board would have continued its review of the card charges,” Stewart said. “But with Brandon’s resignation and payment to the bank, the board was relieved of the need for any further steps.”

“It was a complicated decision for Brandon,” Stewart said.

He said Hufnagel brought up personal and family circumstances at the meeting. The board cannot discuss those issues, Stewart said.

In his letter, Hufnagel said that returning to the York area to be with his family and nearby extended family was a reason for his departure from the school district.