Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Ethics Debate: Which plan will work best for DeKalb?

Today's AJC is reporting that the DeKalb school board is toughening it's ethics policy. Apparently, the school board, motivated by DeKalb school board ethics legislation proposed by State Rep. Kevin Levitas (District 82), has revisited writing it's own policy. The new version will allow board members to punish each other.

The AJC reports:
Under the proposed policy, board members can initiate an investigation against another member if they feel the individual violated the district’s code of ethics or conflict of interest policy.

The accused would be allowed to provide evidence to defend themselves at a public hearing. If found guilty, the board could discipline the accused member, including ordering them to apology or contacting law enforcement.

The proposed policy requires board members to be respectful, follow state Open Meetings laws and attend training. It also prohibits board members from withholding information from each other, voting on jobs for their relatives and taking gifts valued at more than $50.

The school board took its first look at the new proposed ethics policy Monday night and will vote on it later this month, board chair Tom Bowen told the AJC.

We have discussed this topic often here at the blog:

Kevin's bill was discussed back in November.

Tom Doolittle once contributed an article to the blog that clarifies a lot of information on the subject.

Paul Womack wrote a letter to the editor on January 21 endorsing the need for an ethics policy.

And soon after, Open & Transparent wrote an opinion piece about the need for an ethics policy for the DeKalb School Board.

One of our regular contributors had this interesting take on the subject:

I appreciate the school board ethics proposal. However IT, like the current proposal for STATEWIDE school board ethics (SB 84)—does NOT regulate ethics for superintendents (employees).

The Levitas proposal for DeKalb only DOES regulate employees.

Why are they proposing this now? Look at the obvious reasons that the school board should have already initiated an ethics probe on Lewis and possibly Pope. The problem is they are using the possibility (or not) of the criminal investigation as their hurdle to cross.

You can bet they have no plans (and no mechanism without Levitas’s bill) to investigate any kind of conflict of interest (or misuse of funds) for Lewis and Pope if the DA fails to prosecute.

This is a huge part of the story—and would educate people to push the board to:

(1) Immediately push to get the “sealed” files so they can ascertain the nature of the investigation
(2) If the investigation doesn’t include ethical violations (too small compared to RICO) and the DA doesn’t win, then the board would have already initiated its own proceedings—proving to the public they are answering criticism about protecting Lewis.

Weigh in - what do the rest of you think?


SongCue said...

I think it's demoralizing and depressing that we have to consider ethics legislation. But I think it's necessary and agree that the rules need to include the school board AND superintendent. (Although I would have thought the superintendent would have been held to this standard by the school board--sad that this has not been the case.).

Anonymous said...

Great Graphics--how do you do it so quickly--the article just came out.

Moving on--ethics legislation is pro forma--its interesting that they have to separate it from all elected local government.

Both of these bills are lacking, BTW. F'rinstance--
(1)they should outlaw the use of public funds for defending public officials against law enforcement proceedings (OK for civil suits)--in other words outlaw such contract provisions.
(2)Outlaw school employees serving in the legislature (Ron R who has had some really bad stuff coming out)
(3)Be a lot more specific on what a conflict of interest is--the defense is always that it is in the eye of the beholder.
more later.... (why) do you suppose that clause got into CLew's contract...was it an amendment?
If I was expecting an investigation, I'd hurry that one into the document.
(There's one for Tim AJC).

Anonymous said... (why) do you suppose that lawyer cost provision clause got into CLew's contract...was it an amendment?
If I was expecting an investigation, I'd hurry that one into the document.
(There's one for Tim AJC).

Anonymous said...

Unrelated to the ethics of the Board, it does seem like DCSS is getting a little better in their transparency online...sort of. Info is still buried, but more stuff is appearing and more notice of meetings is being given. posted some links to school closing documents/maps that I've never seen navigating through the DCSS site - but they are on there - somewhere, at least. I'm surprised they posted school closing "scenarios" - very interesting!

No Nepotism Ever! said...

I love this. It's blunt and clear as day, Rule #1!!

Rule #1: You can’t do anything to get your relative (see above list of relatives) or someone with whom you have a financial interest (a “financial associate”) a job at the Department or with a Department vendor.

Rule #2: You can’t supervise, directly or indirectly, your relative or someone with whom you have a financial interest at the Department.

Corollaries of Rule #2:
Relatives and/or financial associates of a Community Superintendent can’t work at any of the schools in the Community School District or the district office.

Employment decisions are based upon a candidate’s qualifications for the position, ability, and performance. The School District strives to avoid favoritism, the appearance of favoritism, or any potential conflicts of interest when making employment decisions. Accordingly, the School District does not hire individuals who have a relative presently employed with the District, or who have a relative presently serving on the Board of Education. For the purpose of this policy, the definition of the term “relative” applies both to the applicant for employment in the District and, if legally married at the time of prospective employment, the spouse of such applicant.

District administrators responsible for recruiting and interviewing potential employees shall seek the best person available for the position. However, the Board of Education intends to eliminate “conflicts of interest” in hiring and employment or the appearance of said conflicts.

Family members of the Board of Education or District Administrators shall not be considered for full-time or part-time employment in the District. Family members include parents, spouse, children, brothers, sisters, corresponding in-laws, grandparents, guardians or any relative living in the immediate household of the employee.

Open + Transparent said...

If DCSS Director of Internal Affairs wants to be a state senator, so be it. But he better darn sure be on unpaid leave while he is doing so. It is impossible for him to use vacation and leave time to cover the two and a half months the state legislature is in session,

It is wrong and unacceptable for DeKalb taxpayers to pay him a salary as a DCSS administrator while he is also drawing a salary as a state senator. I've e-mailed BOE members about this. No response.

Anonymous said...

Think bigger O&T--on Ram-gate
Walking Talking conflict of interest.

As a legislator, he gets to help set policy, funnel money. Even if he supposedly lobbied for stuff that in his eyes are "good" for DCSS and DeKalb--hell! They might be bad for the damn STATE--and he may be "driven" to choose one or the other.

Bottom line--taxpayers are paying him for employment (so-called local "service"--not influence, not official lobbying.

Local govt employees in general should never be allowed to serve as legislators.

Gotta pick which "public service" (BS) he's going to provide--legislator or public employee.

The upcoming case against Ramsey (its coming) will SHOW EVERYONE why this should be included in all government Ethics Codes.

These guys (Lewis, Ramsey, Turk) are going to help write the figging book on govt employee ethics and COIs--probably for the whole damn country!

Dekalbparent said...

Anon 10:45's description of Ron Ramsey's dilemma

As a legislator, he gets to help set policy, funnel money. Even if he supposedly lobbied for stuff that in his eyes are "good" for DCSS and DeKalb--hell! They might be bad for the damn STATE--and he may be "driven" to choose one or the other.

sounds a whole lot like the "dilemma" Dr. Walker was in before he stepped down at the DeKalb Development Authority...

Cerebration said...

I said this at the AJC blog, and I'll say it here: If you seriously know of specific wrong-doing by Ramsey, Lewis, Turk, Pope, etc., you darn well better march your self and your evidence to Sally Yates, US Attorney.

Anonymous said...

Black holes Cere. The only stuff they get that sees the light of day are what is convenient to them...and you get dragged into the mess.

F'rinstance, why did they give the AJC PARTIAL tapes (from supposedly sealed files? How do we know they were partial--because as soon as Lewis revealed what he knew about Pope, they were obligated to ask if he was willing to become a Cooperating Witness (CW in their parlance). That would have either been on the full tape, the tape turned off, they didn't follow procedure by asking OR they requested that Tim not publish what they gave him. In all cases, they were restricting evidence.

Also--"Are you willing to testify" are the scariest words in the English language. Not because you'd get threatened with Physical violence, but you expose your entire background to an effort to destroy your credibility.

The US justice system is not what you see.

Anonymous said...


How about adding to the blog one of those "revenue clocks" that keep increasing by the minute to track income (with benefits) we are paying to give Dr. Lewis and Pat Pope a taxpayer funded indefinite vacation. The board (and public) needs to be reminded that their indecision in these matters costs real money which should be being spent in the classroom for our kids instead of on this foolishness.

Cynical? Yes.

Cerebration said...

Gee Cynical - good idea - send me the link to the widget and I'll try to set one up...???!

fedupindcss said...

The single biggest problem with the BOE is that they are not all "at large" board representatives. Instead, we are saddled with a group of people with overwhelmingly parochial views, and that in turn leads to a lot of the ethical problems we see at every meeting. Zepora and her internships? Womack and his principal appointments? Sarah and her buildings? This is all because of the "I, Me, Mine" mindset that has been engendered by having specific districts. I say open it up, just have a 7 (or even better, 5) member board that everyone can vote for.

Anonymous said...


Cynical here. Sorry, my bad. I'm good at complaining but admittedly not so good at what you do well -- seeking real solutions to the problems.

I don't know where you find the link to one of those calculators. Maybe someone else watching this blog does?? (Hint to you savvy computer folks: We really could use your help here please.)

Thanks again for your efforts and commitment to the children and staff in the system who work so hard in spite of the nastiness.


Anonymous said...

Charleston SC (or its county) has this model -- every board member is elected at large, but each position is assigned to an area. (So, there are districts, but the district 1 position is voted on by everyone.) It would be interesting to know how this is working.

Frankly, though DeKalb is a lot bigger and county wide races are lots more expensive. So, the temptations (or even necessity) to take funds from contractors, developers, textbook suppliers, etc might undo any good this plan would have.

We do need to shrink the board to 7. I thought the legislature was going to do this. The DeKalb legislative body are the ones responsible for this and they need to do it this year (or maybe next) because it needs to be done with a recent census (for when you redraw districts). Everyone needs to remind their legislators.

Anonymous said...

Yes, remind your legislator. Especially Ron Ramsey.

Anonymous said...

Article about NY Guv:

Getting educated on ethics--problems for NY Governor. So what threshold did the Guv's problems have to reach before a hearing was initiated?

Baseball tickets folks--that's all it takes when you adhere to ethics codes (when you have them to adhere to).

NOT CRIMINAL--nowhere near criminal--the GBI didn't have to raid a house and offices--the DA didn't have to get involved....what responsible elected body took care of its own business without law enforcement?

Wher are you do nothing, secretive, in-cahoots school board?

Dekalbparent said...

Cere - a suggestion. Since it looks like the proposed ethics policy MAY be posted, how about posting links to the the DCSS proposed policy (when it appears on the website) and posts by Tom Dolittle, O&T and Kevin Levitas' proposal.

There's so much great stuff on this blog, and sometimes I'll remember reading something, and then I can't find it because it was a month or more ago.

I'm probably getting old.