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HISD board to vote on ethics reform

Good.

Houston ISD trustees would have to abstain from voting on deals involving big campaign donors and disclose potential conflicts of interest with a wider range of vendors under new policies up for consideration Thursday.

The board has been working on changes to its ethics rules since tabling a decision last November, and questions remain before this week’s vote. Board president Mike Lunceford has been adamant that trustees adopt stricter rules before asking voters this November to approve a $1.9 billion bond issue that would result in the district doling out lucrative construction contracts.

The proposed policies would require trustees to disclose in writing when they or certain family members work for a company or a nonprofit group seeking HISD business. The trustee also could not discuss or vote on those deals.

The current rules require trustees to disclose conflicts only with companies that employ their parents or children. The proposal extends the requirement to trustees’ siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, great grandparents and great grandchildren.

Trustees still are deciding disclosure rules regarding “the appearance of a conflict of interest,” such as a contract involving a vendor who is not family but is a close friend of a board member, said HISD trustee Juliet Stipeche.

Let’s just say that it will be a lot easier to sell that $1.9 billion bond issue if tighter ethics rules have been put in place first. Let’s also say that while it may be difficult to define “the appearance of a conflict of interest”, it’s usually not too hard for ethically-inclined people to recognize them when they see them. Really, this whole topic is a lot easier to deal with if everyone would work a little harder at avoiding situations that don’t pass the sniff test. Until such time, tighter rules with clearly understood consequences will have to suffice. Stace has more.

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