Why Do Three HISD Trustees Think Their Ethics Policy Has to Go?

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Who? Why? Really?!

It’s hard to come up with a reason to reverse a policy that requires board members to disclose donations and recuse themselves from votes on donors’ business. A policy that promotes fairness and provides transparency is a policy worth keeping, or even strengthening. At tonight’s Houston Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting, we’ll find out who wants to change it, and perhaps get some insight into why.

Here’s what we know now.

Three unnamed trustees (maybe taking a page from Senator Joan Huffman’s playbook?) are challenging the ethics policy. The Houston Press reports:

Poised to make history in a whole different kind of way, the Houston ISD Board of Trustees Thursday night may vote to essentially gut their ethics policy by removing or significantly changing a key provision.

That provision states that a board member who accepts $500 or more in one year from particular vendor must publicly disclose that and recuse himself or herself from any discussion on contracts that vendor is vying for. Said board member also cannot vote on that vendor’s contract.

You can still take the money. You just got to tell the world you did and then not vote or influence a vote for the people or business that was so specially nice to you.

The board president won’t reveal who brought this item to the agenda, saying only “three trustees.”

At least four trustees, Anna Eastman, Harvin Moore, Greg Myers, and Mike Lunceford have gone on the record opposed to changes.

Manuel Rodriguez, who saw nothing wrong with to sending a homophobic mailer in a prior campaign, also sees nothing wrong with voting on a matter involving a vendor who has made a donation. Presumably, then, he is one of the three who wants to change or remove the restriction. After all, he says:

“If anybody’s going to sell their soul for $2,000, then shame on them.”

To paraphrase a notorious joke about Winston Churchill and Lady Astor, does his saying that mean we’re now just dickering about price?

Another trustee who might be supporting it, but who has thus far not indicated where she stands, is returning member Diana Dávila.

Here’s some context for why I suspect she could be one of three, or why she better make it clear she is not one of the three.

Dávila ended her first run as an HISD trustee by resigning in July, 2010, initially citing the need to focus on her young children and family business, and claiming no relationship at all between her decision to leave and an article the Chron had just published

… that said she had tried to appoint her husband to an Houston Independent School District committee that oversees a nearly $1 billion construction program, a move the district’s inspector general concluded was a conflict of interest.

Her husband, Abel Dávila, is also no stranger to these out of the blue coincidental ethics investigations/career change decisions.

He himself unexpectedly withdrew his name, in 2009, from the ballot for a new term on the Houston Community College System board of trustees. That stunt caused a chain reaction that lead to a write-in candidate winning the seat after Davila was unable to swing the position to his brother-in-law.

That was five years after the Houston Press examined in great detail accusations of Davila exerting undue influence for the benefit of relatives and others while serving as an HCC trustee.

HISD cannot afford to allow even the appearance of impropriety taint board members’ actions. They do not have a strong record on this front.

The work our schools must do is too important for any board member to risk eroding public confidence in their governance and oversight—and some might say erode it any further.

Let’s hope reasonable heads prevail at tonight’s meeting, and that if the policy is changed, it is made stronger, not weaker.





About Author

Andrea Greer

Andrea, an activist, fundraiser, feminist, writer, and baker, is not as tall as you think she is. She's been at this a long time, and wants to know what you are doing to make the pie higher and raise more hell. Her mother would like you to know she's got a law degree.

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