Fort Worth ISD Board Ditches Ethics for Cash
The Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) Board had an ethics policy with teeth, but it didn’t last long. It appears board officials just couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to potentially cash in on the massive $750 Million school bond.
The school board adopted a strong ethics policy in April of this year, but abruptly ditched it a few months later in August. Conveniently for elected officials, this alarming change was made only six days before the board voted to put a $750 million bond package on the November ballot.
A Chance at New and Improved Ethics
The good policy they recently ditched was comprehensive and vetted by the Board Policy Review Committee as well as the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). It was great for taxpayers, raising the bar for transparency and ethics by disclosing or prohibiting conflicts of interests between elected officials and district vendors.
The policy started by defining “Duty of Loyalty,” the importance of putting the District’s interests above any other. It redefined family members to include extended family and made it more difficult to hide gifts and contributions through them.
It also lowered the acceptable amount of gifts from vendors as well as putting a restriction on campaign contributions from vendors and potential vendors. Disclosures were also reformed adding more reporting and real transparency. The new policy even added consequences for vendors; violators could be kept from receiving any district contracts for up to 24 months.
All of That was Repealed
Inside sources told Direct Action Texas that when Board President Tobi Jackson was asked why the new ethics policy was repealed, she replied that fellow Board Member Anael Luebanos needed the money from vendors. Luebanos’s recent election was expensive and he wanted to refill his account.
Why would Tobi Jackson be so quick to throw Luebanos under the bus? Perhaps it is because of the non-profit where she works as Executive Director; she reports directly to Linebarger, Goggin, Sampson and Associates partner Barbara Williams. Linebarger receives massive sweetheart contracts from FWISD and then returns the favor by giving campaign contributions to Jackson. In Jackson’s election in 2015, her campaign received thousands directly from the law firm, in addition to indirect benefits, not the least of which, is her steady paycheck.
Follow the Money
Jackson isn’t the only one that receives money from Linebarger. Board Members Cinto Ramos, T.A. Sims, and Ann Sutherland all reported large contributions from the firm. Linebarger is just one law firm and one example of the circle of money. Most vendors contribute through their CEOs or other employees to make their contributions more difficult to trace.
The money flows from the vendors to board members in the form of campaign contributions and gifts to family members, who then perpetuate the vendor’s contracts with the district. The circle goes on and on.
It’s unclear the total amount of contributions the board members receive, but with $750 million in taxpayer money to dole in to architects, contractors, and other suppliers, a large conflict of interest is clear.
The new ethics policy would have slowed that flow of money, or even stopped it. Under that context, the motivation for repealing it is crystal clear. The board members didn’t want to lose out on all the potential money that would otherwise flow into their re-election campaigns.