Archive for January 12th, 2016

Watering Down Ethics

This was in Rebecca Elliott’s article yesterday on the CD 29 race:

About 42,000 voters cast a ballot in 29th district Democratic primary in 2008. That figure dropped to just 6,200 in 2014. 

Redistricting has given CD 29 a different look in 2016.

In 2008, actually close to 54,000 CD 29 Dems showed up to vote in the Dem Primary. Only 42,000 and change voted in the CD 29 race. Cong. Green was unopposed. Close to 12,000 skipped voting in the race – we call them under votes or 21.6%.

If you look at two competitive state house races in Harris County during the 2008 Dem primary, you see a different under vote. In the Dist. 140 race (Walle-Bailey), there was a 13% under vote. In the Dist. 145 race (Alvarado-De La Garza), there was a 12% under vote.

It is hard to say today what the 2016 turnout will be in the Dem Primary in Harris County. It all depends on what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire. I will say that a competitive CD 29 race will produce a lower under vote this time around so stay tuned.

Everybody knows that Jose Altuve led the team in stolen bases this past season with 38. Who was number two?

Check out from the Houston Press what may happen at the HISD board meeting in a couple of days.

HISD Trustees May Vote to Gut That Pesky Ethics Policy

By Margaret Downing 

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. 

Passed in 2012 after months of gnashing of teeth and countless expert ethical help, the ethics policy was designed to stop any actuality (or at least appearance) that trustees getting were getting rich off their positions or making sure that their pals are taken care of.  But now, three members of the school board have asked that the matter be reconsidered, according to trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones.

Skillern-Jones presided over the board’s Monday agenda meeting in which the matter was supposed to be discussed. But it was not and other agenda items were not because outgoing trustee Paula Harris left after voting on Superintendent Terry Grier’s bonus (more on that later), leaving the board without a quorum.

Asked which three board members had asked for a re-vote on the ethics policy, Skillern-Jones refused to give up their names. Talk about working in the back rooms. So much for transparency. 

In fact, the only thing the five trustees achieved after an executive session lasting more than an hour was to approve a bonus of $75,420.45 for Superintendent Terry Grier, who’s out of here as of March 1. Normally the superintendent bonus is based upon student test scores and other data, but it was too early in the year, so a negotiated bonus was settled on instead, according to HISD spokeswoman Holly Huffman. The vote was 3-2 with Harvin Moore, Manuel Rodriguez and Harris voting in favor and Anna Eastman and Skillern-Jones voting against. Board members Michael Lunceford, Greg Meyers, Wanda Adams and Juliet Stipeche did not attend. 

Asked if she’d ever known a board to rescind its own ethics policy, Skillern-Jones replied: “I’ve never seen it done, but we’ve rescinded other policies.”

Trustee Moore, a longtime opponent of re-votes to change board decisions, said after the meeting: “I think it’s confusing to the public. When an elected board makes a decision, they should not go back on it. As far as I know, we have a very good ethics policy, one of the strongest of any school district, of any governmental body.”

And asked if she thought the ethics policy would be significantly changed, trustee Eastman said after the agenda meeting: “I don’t know and I’m very disappointed that it’s even being considered. The campaign finance section only triggers a disclosure; a trustee can take as much money as he wants but there has to be a recusal from discussion and abstention from voting.”

The ethics policy isn’t the only one up for a do-over. Trustees voted earlier this year not to exempt all students at the second grade level and younger from suspensions. Instead, it voted to strongly urge such suspensions be avoided, but concluded that teachers and principals should still have the power to remove disruptive students from a class. Now it’s back on the agenda. 

There’s a proposal to add ten new magnet programs at Atherton, Crockett, Hartsfield, Kashmere Gardens and Stevens elementaries; Dowling, Key, and Ortiz middle schools and Kashmere and Westbury High Schools – some of whom we’re told didn’t even formally apply for magnet status.

Also up for reconsideration: a new funding policy for those special extra people at a school – nurses, counselors and librarians. Hey, let’s run through it all.

With agenda items added right and left, a veritable smorgasbord of pet projects and possible programs, this could be a testament to why a school district does not operate well with a lame duck superintendent at the helm (sort of) for the last several months.

Just in time for all this new and re-newed voting: the new board members are being sworn in at 11 a.m. Thursday, just hours before that night’s meeting. Diana Davila and Jolanda Jones will take the places of Stipeche (defeated in her re-election attempt) and Harris (who chose to leave the board at the end of her term).

Don’t you want to come Thursday night to hear why trustees should be able to vote on contracts for their pals? To hear them brazen it out that somehow this is a good thing? Don’t you want to be there for that historically shameful moment?

And by the way, shouldn’t the board be focused on its new superintendent search?

I am not going to get too worked up on this because my trustee, Anna Eastman, will be on the right side and lead the effort to do the right thing.

If a trustee wants to water down the ethics policy – go on ahead. If they decide to run for another office, they will have to run with that on their record.

They will also be electing new officers of the board. If you wake up Friday morning and don’t like who is leading the board, blame yourself. Try calling your trustee and see what they are fixing to do. I called mine.

That was a good game last night.

Jake Marisnick of course was number two on team with 24 stolen bases.

That’s all I have from The Yard.

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