Houston school trustees on Thursday renewed serious talks about tightening their ethics rules after failing to agree on new policies late last year.
The proposed changes, meant to restore public confidence that the Houston Independent School District is hiring the best contractors without undue influence, also could affect trustees’ political campaign coffers.
Trustees would have to abstain from voting on deals involving vendors who had contributed more than $500 to their campaigns the prior year. They also would have to disclose and abstain if they have a close relationship with a vendor.
Board president Mike Lunceford pledged that trustees would take a preliminary vote on the new policies in September. The changes would be in place before November, when the board is asking voters to approved a $1.9 billion bond issue that would result in the district awarding numerous lucrative construction contracts.
“This is something that should have happened a long time ago,” trustee Juliet Stipeche said of adopting stricter rules. “We need to have higher ethical standards.”
This is true, and pushing for stronger ethics rules before rolling out the pro-bond referendum campaign makes a lot of sense and ought to help satisfy those who want to be supportive of the bonds but have qualms about some of the trustees’ behavior. Still, any set of rules can be circumvented – as Campos suggests, what happens if a vendor donates to a PAC that then attacks or supports a given candidate? I wouldn’t mind seeing publicly funded campaigns for school boards as I’ve suggested for judicial races, but in a post-Citizens United world, I don’t see a viable path towards that end. Honestly, what we really need are more voters that are willing to hold accountable trustees that don’t act in an ethical manner. If we had Board whose members all instinctively acted correctly in these matters, we wouldn’t have to sweat the details nearly as much.