Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ethics Reform Hijacked By Board Politics

In 2004, Houston ISD adopted a simple one page ethics reform that prohibits most contracts with Trustees.

The Houston ethics policy reform was adopted because the husband of the Board President was receiving substantial contracts with the school district while his wife served as a Trustee.

In February 2008 - four years after Houston ISD addressed a very similar problem - I proposed a simple one sentence Ethics Reform policy primarily because of the proposed 2008 bond election. The idea was simply to stop 'business entities' with financial ties to Trustees and members of their family from receiving Dallas ISD contracts.

The Ethics Reform policy has now been hijacked by the political agenda of the Board majority. The Board President appointed his political allies to a committee of three. You might say the outcome was never in doubt.

As of next Thursday, October 30, 2008 - eight months later - it is likely Dallas ISD Trustees will adopt a revised Ethics Policy (BBFA Local) that has been intentionally distorted to still allow the very obvious unethical Board arrangement to continue.

Unlike the Houston Board which acted with integrity, the Dallas ISD revised ethics policy has been manipulated for one primary purpose - to protect Board President Jack Lowe from a choice he has already made.

The Choice ...

Trustee Lowe has previously clearly stated:
"... he would not have run for office if TD Industries could not continue to do business with the district."
"When I was thinking about running for the school board in 2002, one of the things I checked out before I did it was, was that going to exclude TD Industries from doing business with the district?" Mr. Lowe said. "Because the district is a pretty big customer for things we sell."
"To ask the company to support me while I'm doing this rather time-consuming volunteer job [at DISD], and also to walk away from a significant chunk of business, was not something I was willing to do," Mr. Lowe said.
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Dallas ISD hands millions in contracts to top leaders' firms

What could be more clear? A Trustee of the District has stated in no uncertain terms that contracts for his company come before public service as a Trustee. He will only serve if he can also keep his business contracts.

The Dallas ISD Board is headed by an officer who will not serve without holding on to a "significant chunk of change" for his company - TD Industries.

What do you call this? It is certainly not ethical conduct. What is it? The good ol' boy system? Just politics as usual?

No elected Trustee who takes seriously the responsibility to protect the public interest - not the personal interest of Trustees - should support this arrangement.

Since my election in 2006, I recall that it is primarily Trustee Lowe who has pushed to increase the Superintendent's salary. It is primarily Trustee Lowe who has pushed to extend the Superintendent's contract and even stated he would extend it beyond the maximum five years if it were possible. It is also primarily Trustee Lowe who has refused to hold the Superintendent accountable for anything.

The basic plan has been to subordinate the Board to the Superintendent - just rubber stamp everything with no effective Board oversight or accountability.

The result has been a potential $148 million dollar financial nightmare - $64 million deficit in 2007-2008 plus a projected $84 million deficit in 2008-2009. No one really knows even with the large reduction in force (RIF).

Who does this truly serve to have a Superintendent personally beholden to the Chairman of TD Industries - a company that has received millions in past contracts and will seek millions in contracts in the future? The taxpayers and stakeholders of Dallas ISD or TD Industries?

Such are the ways of corrupting a public institution.

This is not in the public interest.

Trustees who vote to support such a policy created to hijack the major ethics reform issue facing the Board will do so primarily to enable the Board President to continue violating the public trust.

This unethical arrangement clearly contributed to the lack of accountability that has now resulted in permanent financial damage to Dallas ISD.
"Lowe was stunned. Also, "very embarassed," he tells Unfair Park."
"The money is gone and there's nothing we can do about it," he says.
"Because if anyone should have smoked this out, it should have been me ... I should have seen this coming and I didn't do it. Shame on me."
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Yes, I agree and all Trustees have the same responsibility.

Shame on the Board
for supporting unethical contracting with the 'business entities' of elected Trustees and members of their family.

My vote will be NO.
"It strikes me as a conflict of interest," said Joel White, a Houston lawyer who is immediate past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. "You can't represent your own personal business and the public at the same time."
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"I think it would be horrendous to make an issue out of that," said trustee Jerome Garza.
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Carole Keeton Strayton - Board members get no pay, but does that give board members the right to profit from the districts they serve? I say no. Former Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
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ED 13 - Prohibit School Board Members From Doing Business Directly Or Indirectly With Their Districts - January 2003 - Susan Combs - Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
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