New Revelations on SBOE Ethics Concerns

by Dan Quinn

The Dallas Morning News just dropped another ethics bomb on the Texas State Board of Education. The newspaper reports that two board members “have received thousands of dollars in gifts from a company seeking a lucrative contract with the board, records show, and those members have not reported the gifts on financial disclosure forms.”

Today’s story follows on others recently that have detailed ethics concerns regarding the board’s management of the Permanent School Fund. (See here, here and here.)

From today’s Morning News story:

Bidding documents submitted to the board by the company, AEW Capital Management of Boston, say its employees bought 53 gifts worth more than $5,000 for board finance committee members Rene Nuñez, D-El Paso, and Rick Agosto, D-San Antonio.

Since 2006, the gifts included golf games, Wine tours, dinners and “souvenirs.” One line item showed that Agosto received $220 worth of “Big 12 Championship Tix” and $324 for “Golf, Caddy, Fees & Tips.” Another said the firm spent $729 to host Nuñez at a “USC v Ohio Event.”

Agosto said he had not seen AEW’s disclosure, which was made in response to a Request for Qualifications from the board. Asked if he should have reported the gifts, Agosto declined to comment.

The newspaper says it obtained the bidding documents from an anonymous state board member. That fact drew criticism from board member David Bradley, R-BeaumontBuna, chairman of the board’s Finance Committee, who said the records shouldn’t have been made public:

“Any information that is released in those … is confidential. That unnamed board member, having a political agenda, has violated the very same ethics policy and procedures he is talking about.”

So Mr. Bradley seems more interested in keeping the public in the dark than in examining possible improprieties involving the board’s investment decisions. That comes as no surprise to us. As we explained last month, Mr. Bradley this year successfully pushed for the hiring of a new investment consultant with which Mr. Agosto had previous business contacts. And the largest campaign contribution Mr. Bradley received in his 2008 re-election bid was from a former professional colleague of Mr. Agosto.

We should be clear: we have no proof that Mr. Bradley, Mr. Agosto and other board members have broken the law. But an investigation into these growing ethics concerns seems justified. Moreover, two other current members of the board’s Finance Committee — Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, and Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond — should explain their votes to hire the investment consultant Bradley and Agosto wanted. And Don McLeroy, R-College Station, who served on the board’s Finance Committee last year, also voted to hire the same investment consultant. What did they all know about these ethics concerns, and why did they look the other way?

The Legislature’s failure this spring to remove the board’s authority over the Permanent School Fund appears even more troubling now. Parents should be assured that decisions made about their children’s education aren’t the result of vote trading involving financial shenanigans by state board members.

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