A new ethics and conflict-of-interest policy is expected to be presented to the Fort Worth school board this month, but just exactly what will be included in the document is unclear.
Will it have elements of the six-page policy the board approved in April, then rescinded in August?
Will it be mirrored after the state’s existing ethics laws?
Will anybody understand it?
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Trustee Christene Moss, who serves as chairwoman of the recently created Special Board Policy Committee, doesn’t have the answers yet, but promises that a draft will be ready for the full board to ponder Dec. 12.
“We are going to come out with a policy for the board to follow,” Moss said “I am not sure what will quiet the controversy. In my experience, there is always a hidden agenda. I am just in support of students.”
The special committee met Monday to begin work on a new version of the ethics policy, following the controversial rescinding of the previous policy in August. That policy had been in place since April.
One focus of the special committee was rules covering family members of trustees. For example, can a parent, brother or son-in-law of a trustee be a vendor?
Another recommendation requires that trustees disclose in writing any “past or present business relationship with any vendor or bidder regardless of nature or amount.”
“This is all tentative because it is going to go back to the board,” Moss said.
The Fort Worth school board’s ethics policy has been mired in controversy since October, when several trustees acknowledged they inadvertently voted in August to rescind a six-page ethics policy. The extensive policy had been crafted by the Board Policy Committee and approved by trustees April 25.
Discussions among committee members have been tense at times, with some pushing for strong rules to prevent federal investigations.
“How many times have we been investigated by the federal government?” trustee Ashley Paz asked, alluding to a multimillion dollar billing scandal in mid-1990s.
Moss responded: “I have not been investigated.”
The policy approved in April includes strict rules regarding campaign contributions from entities that are “financially interested in the outcome of a contract,” guidelines on what constitutes a conflict of interest for board members and their family, and limitations on gifts for board members. Vendors found in violation of the policy would be subject to penalties as well.
Paz, who led the committee that crafted the policy approved in April, said layers of scrutiny are not in the draft version.
She said state law has no restrictions on campaign contributions tied to vendors or outside organizations. The April 25 policy stated that trustees had to disclose donations and remove themselves from voting on contracts to vendors that contributed more $2,000 to their campaigns in the 12-month period leading up to that vote.
The April 25 ethics policy also addressed gifts to trustees, placing rules on gifts greater than $50 to trustees or their family members. The state law calls for conflict disclosures for gifts to trustees and family greater than $100.
Paz said a strong local ethics policy also protects the superintendent.
“The reason that [it] is important to have local polices is that they protect your superintendent from interference from the board,” Paz said.
This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.