Editorial: School board ethics – do the right thing

On Nov. 7, voters in the Fort Worth Independent School District gave the board of trustees something it wanted: approval of two ballot propositions that included authorization to issue $750 million in bonds.

It will be money well-spent – if it is well spent.

The vote represents a great deal of trust on the part of voters, but trust built over years can be destroyed in seconds. That’s why we find it so disturbing to learn that an ethics policy supplanting a policy in place since 2007 was approved by the board without discussion in April – then rescinded four months later at a special meeting to approve the calling of the $750 million bond election – again without discussion.

Both ethics votes were approved as part of a “consent agenda” – a parliamentary device generally used to deal with routine issues that don’t require discussion and debate. Consent agendas are not meant to deal with matters as important and potentially controversial as an ethics code for board members.

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Including such an item on a consent agenda strongly suggests that someone was trying to slip it though unnoticed. If so, it worked, at least until a diligent newspaper reporter found out about it and blew the whistle.

Board president Tobi Jackson told the Star-Telegram, which first reported the ethics votes, that the trustees will deal with the issue and we trust her to make that happen.

An ideal ethics policy could be one sentence: Do the right thing. When ethics policies expand beyond that, it’s usually because people are looking for wiggle room for things they want to do that might conflict with those four words.

So now it’s up to the board. Give us an ethics policy. And this time debate it in public; hold open hearings on it. And don’t put it on a consent agenda.

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That’s the right thing to do.