Transparency is the name of the game in local government, and the Fort Worth Independent School District board of trustees has struck out.
The 7-0 vote rescinded a more stringent policy about contractor gifts and campaign contributions. The stronger policy had only been in place four months.
Some trustees say they weren’t aware the change that weakened the ethics policy was on the fast-tracked consent agenda without discussion. They said they missed it amid the hubbub over the $750 million FWISD bond package.
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Most trustees seem dumbfounded this happened and want to reinstate the policy, but the reversal still gives significant reason for pause. And more importantly, to question why the board would seek any change.
Repeated inquiries into the reason for the change have gone unresolved.
With a $750 million bond package before voters, how could the trustees not see foresee how this might worry voters?
How can trustees vote on something so important without knowing about it? And further, without telling residents why they put it on the agenda in the first place?
According to records, board president Tobi Jackson put the item on the consent agenda.
Jackson said Tuesday a proposal for another new ethics and conflict-of-interest policy will be presented to the board Nov. 14 for a vote. A partial description should be available Thursday when the agenda is posted at fwisd.org, she said.
The Star-Telegram Editorial Board has supported the $750 million bond package, but with reservations about the $70 million it includes to cover cost overruns and miscellaneous charges. Is it wise to give discretion for spending that big chunk of money to board members who voted to water down conflict of interest rules without discussing the change in public?
With the ethics and conflict-of-interest policy now pared back to a flimsy sentence, how do we ensure bond projects are carried out with transparency?
“We are committed 100 percent to a strong ethics policy and we will address it,” Jackson said Tuesday.
The board must do that and more. Trustees must work to restore the previous ethics policy and explain why they did what they did. Only then will they begin to rebuild trust in their leadership.