Reality vs. Perception on SBOE Ethics?

On Friday two Texas State Board of Education members at the center of recent stories about ethics concerns denied that they have done anything wrong. Check out reports on this from the Houston Chronicle, Austin American-Statesman and Dallas Morning News.

The denials came on the same day the state board’s Finance/Permanent School Fund Committee discussed whether the board should make any changes to its ethics policies. Some committee members argued that those policies should be clearer, should align more closely with policies for other state agencies and should make reporting requirements the same for board members and firms bidding for the board’s business. They also wanted to give board members time to review and possibly contest any questionable statements in bidders’ disclosure forms before those disclosures are made public.

State board chair Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, said she especially wanted changes that would encourage board members to avoid even the perception of ethics problems when they carry out their official duties.

Well, that suggestion sounds good to us. Obeying the letter of the law might protect board members from prosecution, but it won’t necessarily assure the general public that members aren’t seeking private benefit from their official actions. For example, a policy might forbid or at least require disclosure of private contact with a bidder during a specified period. But why shouldn’t a public official voluntarily disclose other contacts outside that period, simply as a way to assure the public that there are no hidden personal agendas?

Moreover, wouldn’t it be in the best interests of all involved for a public official to recuse himself or herself from decisions regarding bidders with which he or she has had prior contact and possible business dealings? Doing so doesn’t suggest that public official has done anything wrong. To the contrary, doing so reassures constituents that decisions are being made in the best interests of the public good, not for personal gain.

Ms. Lowe is right: board members should act, when possible, in ways that avoid even the perception that something is not appropriate. That’s common sense.

But we would like a real answer to this question: why did Ms. Lowe and other members of the state board’s far-right faction vote as a bloc to hire a new investment consultant when other board members had voiced serious concerns about possible ethics problems involving that decision? Not only that, but the Permanent School Fund‘s staff had rated the firm lower than the consultant the far-right bloc essentially voted to fire. And the firm the far-right bloc voted to hire had submitted a substantially higher bid.

If Ms. Lowe is really concerned about perceptions, she should seriously review and explain her own votes. So should her colleagues.

8 thoughts on “Reality vs. Perception on SBOE Ethics?

  1. The admonition to avoid even the appearance of wrong doing is actually from a verse in the New Testament. It is nice that at least one fundie knows a little something about the Bible. Ms. Lowe also needs to recall that there is another verse in the New Testament. It says that those things done in secret will be revealed and shouted from the rooftops. If evil or the appearance of evil were done in secret with regard to the SBOE selection of financial firms and a COI did exist, Ms. Lowe and every other churchgoer on the SBOE needs to be aware that the tiniest and even the most microscopic pieces of these dealings will be revealed in their fullest and shall be shouted from the rooftops in Texas.

    How do I know this? That’s easy. Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so.

    The only way out is to fess up early and fess up often. Those who fess up sincerely, early enough, and often enough can sometimes save their political careers. Those who do not tend to lose everything in the long run and often end up fined and/or in jail. Charles is reading you the “riot act.” Better listen up.

  2. Yeah Gail, please explain your vote and clear up the perception that you may be taking bribes, or getting kickbacks, or getting expensive vacations in exchange for your vote.

    Nothing like being completely above board to explain why you voted to hire an investment consultant that cost more money and had a lower rating than the one you fired.

    Right now Gail, it really looks bad for you and the others that voted your way.

    I’m sure you will want to use your good sense of ethics to clean up the perception that you are “on the take.”

  3. I see no evidence that Gail Lowe is “on the take” or has ever been accused of any impropriety. The TFN somebody (Kathy? Ryan?) who writes these pieces comes across as continually so upset as to be almost irrational. Despite the fact that Gail Lowe is a dramatic improvement over the good-hearted but somewhat reckless Don McLeroy, you can barely bring yourself to say anything in her praise. I guess you need to keep the troops continually infuriated with your slanted pieces. Isn’t that what you accuse the religious right of doing? Exercise some decorum and you’ll come across as more credible.

  4. We are not suggesting that Ms. Lowe is “on the take” financially. But we have raised a fair question about why the board’s faction of social conservatives — of which she is a key member — voted as it did for a new investment consultant promoted by Mr. Agosto. There was no compelling public reason to do so. Other Republicans and Democrats on the board strongly protested terminating prematurely the contract with the previous consultant. So we’ll be clearer: is there a connection between the far-right faction’s vote for a new consultant and Mr. Agosto’s actions that have allowed social conservatives to prevail on a number of controversial matters over the past three years? We think voters deserve a truthful answer.

  5. I see no HARD evidence Gail Lowe is “on the take” either. But I do see plenty of suspision that could easily lead someone to believe that she could be.

    As it currently appears, her vote is nonsensical and to “to avoid even the perception of ethics problems when they carry out their official duties”, Gail Lowe should completely explain her logic to voters.

    Otherwise, someone may conclude she is selling her vote for personal gain. And we wouldn’t want that, now would we?

  6. Aw Gage. You’re just upset because an opposing organization exists and does not rollover and play dead or get out of the way so your boys can hog the public discourse stage. The heady, free-wheeling days of Religious Right hegemony on the national and state soapboxes is gone forever buddy boy. You better get really comfortable with it because it is going to get one Hades of a lot worse as the years go by. By the way, with regard to that “…keep the troops continually infuriated…” part, I believe that might be Play 10A in the Relligious Right Play Media Book. It sure looks like it to me when I visit all of those Religious Right websites and blogs.

    Of course, you guys have it quite a bit easier that TFN. From my personal perspective at least, it is a whole lot easier for you guys to deceive the high school dropouts, C-average high school diplomates who work down at the local plant, and the assorted hardcore extremists on the far right. As my wife says about cattle, “They’re not mental giants you know.” Organizations like TFN have to tell the truth because their audience is often a college or graduate degree crowd experienced at sifting their way through BS. That’s why they call us the elitist, pinhead intelligentsia.

  7. I’m never surprized when the self-righteous Christian Right tries to weaken or avoid ethics rules or find ways around them or avoid hard ethics questions.

    I have come to expect it.