Campbell said he bought the house as an investment and said the decision had nothing to do with his professional relationship with Grucella. ``It's no different than delving into the stock market,'' he said.
Grucella, a meter reader at the Lower Bucks County Joint Municipal Authority, said the auction at which her house was sold to Campbell was open to the public and that anyone was free to bid. She insisted that her landlord-tenant agreement with Campbell had not affected her votes on the school board.
``I have violated no ethical standards,'' she said.
Since becoming Campbell's tenant, Grucella has voted with her colleagues on the school board to pay $3,000 to his firm, Unitech Engineers of Langhorne. Grucella said she cast those votes on the merits and had not allowed her housing situation to influence her.
Some of her fellow school board members who said they learned only recently that Grucella is Campbell's tenant have questioned the relationship and said they consider it inappropriate that she did not abstain from voting on issues that involved his company.
Letizia Riccardi, a Republican member of the school board, said Grucella should have abstained from any vote involving Campbell. ``It would have prevented the appearance of a conflict,'' she said. School Board President Peter Belmonte, a Democrat, declined to comment on the matter except to say that he would investigate the situation.
Grucella, a Democrat who is running for reelection this year, shrugged off the criticism and said it was politically motivated.
``The politicians have had to come against me personally, because they couldn't attack me for my school board record,'' she said.
Grucella was one of five Democrats who voted in December 1997 to hire Campbell's firm as the district's engineer of record. Three Republicans on the board abstained from that vote, and one Republican voted against the appointment. Unitech received about $15,000 in work from the district in the last year, and is poised to receive significantly more in the coming months because of a $9.5 million building-repair package approved by voters in November.
District Solicitor Marcel Groen attended the public auction at which Campbell bought Grucella's former house and said he thought nothing of it at the time. Groen said he did not believe that the landlord-tenant relationship posed a conflict of interest for Grucella. So in his view, Groen said, Grucella did not do anything wrong in voting to pay bills to Campbell's firm. But he said he would check with the state Ethics Commission to be sure.
Vince Dopko, chief counsel for the Ethics Commission, said he could not comment on any specific question of ethics. In general, he said, public officials such as school board directors cannot use their office for financial benefit to themselves, their business or their families.
Grucella said her family was paying ``fair-market value'' for the rental housing and thus was not gaining financially from Campbell. ``If I was living free of charge or below fair-market value, that would be a different story,'' she said. She stressed that her vote to hire Campbell as the district's engineer came before he became her landlord and that she had not cast deciding votes to pay his firm for its work.