Henrico school leader resigns, board calls for investigation

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CBS 6 INVESTIGATES: Emails show ex-board member defended embattled superintendent

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) - The Henrico County School Board is asking the commonwealth's attorney to investigate whether there was a conflict of interest between the school division and a company owned by a school board member's husband.

The investigation request comes as school board members conduct an internal review looking into allegations involving school board member, Diana Winston, and school superintendent Patrick Russo.

On Monday, Winston officially resigned from her position on the Henrico School Board, just four days after abruptly leaving a closed-session meeting.

In a letter addressed to school board chair Beverly Cocke, Winston wrote:

Diana Winston"It has been a pleasure to serve Henrico County as a public servant for the past 43 years. My career as a professional educator has been challenging, yet very rewarding. I have always been objective and ethical in any personal or professional circumstances and any source who suggests otherwise has a slanderous agenda...There is not enough time to worry about the misinformation of disgruntled ex-employees or past school board members reported by journalists interested in sensationalism and not accuracy. They need to 'get a life.'" [BONUS: Click here to read Winston's resignation letter {PDF}]

Cocke says the board is asking Commonwealth's Attorney Shannon L. Taylor to look into whether a conflict of interest existed between TechnoMarketing, Inc., a promotional company owned by Joe Winston, and the school division.

The company has done business with the school division over the past several years.

Superintendent Patrick Russo has been placed on paid annual leave, as the board investigates allegations that involve inappropriate email exchanges and an unprofessional relationship between Russo and Winston.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, CBS 6 obtained several emails showing friendly banter between Winston and Russo, who are close family friends, along with their spouses.

While Cocke says the inquiry is a personnel matter, she says the board is working diligently to ensure transparency and a quick resolution for the citizens of Henrico County.

"We understand how serious this is and that's why we took such swift action Thursday and are reviewing matters," Cocke tells CBS 6.

After Winston's resignation goes into effect next Wednesday, the school board will appoint another board member until a special election can be held in November 2014.

Meanwhile, acting school superintendent Dr. Patrick Kinlaw says he's certain that the investigation and internal review will not impact students and teachers who are getting ready to head back to school.

Kinlaw says plans for the 2013-2014 school year have been in place for several months.

"We feel confident when teachers return, they'll have everything they need to do the job they always do," Kinlaw says.

Winston represents the Three Chopt District on the Henrico School Board.  The Three Chopt District is located in western Henrico County and is made up of schools like Deep Run High School , Tuckahoe Middle School and Short Pump Elementary School.