HISD board passes ethics reform

It was a unanimous vote at Thursday’s board meeting.

Under the new rules, which will be finalized next month, trustees will have to abstain from voting on deals involving vendors who contributed at least $500 to their political campaigns the prior year. District contractors also will be barred from donating to trustees during the competitive bidding process until a contract is issued.

The city of Houston has a similar blackout period but does not bar Council members from voting on donors’ contracts.

Trustees also will have to disclose if a wide range of family members are employed by vendors, and will have to abstain from voting on related deals. The policy does not require disclosure of trustees’ friendships with vendors because that relationship would be hard to define, though the rules do say the board should avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, said HISD’s outside attorney David Thompson.

In addition, the new policy says that HISD trustees should not accept meals, trips, sports tickets or other gifts totaling more than $50 a year from vendors. But if they do take the gifts, they must disclose them.

Thompson said the intent of the policy also is to ban trustees from voting on deals involving those who gave them gifts.

The old rules, which aligned with state law, did not require trustees to disclose trips, tickets or other entertainment paid for by vendors if the trustees attended as the vendors’ guest.

Good. This needed to be done, and it removes a large obstacle to supporting the bond that a number of people, the Chron editorial board, and organized labor had cited. It should be a lot easier to advocate for the bond now. Kudos to the trustees, and especially to Trustee Juliet Stipeche, for getting this done.

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