I have a message for the Board regarding my ethics complaints.
The Board will soon have to make a decision about two ethics complaints that I made about a District employee. This District employee has seats on the boards of two non-profit corporations but did not properly disclose those relationships and, in violation of state law and the District Ethics Policy, participated in the discussion and decision to enter into contracts with those non-profit corporations. The question before the Board will not be one of fact. It is an indisputable fact that the employee has the seats on the non-profit boards. It is an indisputable fact that the employee did not properly disclose those relationships. It is an indisputable fact that the employee did not include them on the annual disclosure and statement of financial interest. It is an indisputable fact that the employee participated in the decision to enter into contracts with these non-profit corporations. In short, there is no question that the employee committed misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors by violating state laws RCW 42.23.030, RCW 42.23.040, and RCW 9A.76.175 and, coincidently, also violated the District Ethics Policy. That's not in question. The question before the Board will be: So What?
So what if the relationships with the non-profits weren't disclosed – the Board knew about them.
So this: the disclosure isn't so the School Board will know about the conflict. The disclosure has to be in the official minutes so the public will be informed about the conflict.
So what if the employee participated in the decisions despite the relationship – it wasn't a REAL conflict because it didn't result in immediate financial gain.
So this: both the law and the District's disclosure statement specifically refer to non-profits, so they are both concerned specifically about non-profits. That indicates that the Board should be concerned about them.
So what about the violations of the law – this is a technical violation on the order of dotting i's and crossing t's; it's not really a big deal.
So this: these technical violations are misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors punishable by jail time. When the State Auditor called out the District for ignorance and non-compliance with laws and policies, the Board paid a lot of lip service to taking this matter seriously. Now is the time for the Board to pay something more than lip service to reining in the scofflaw culture of Seattle Public Schools.
Finally, just So What? In the immortal words of Chick Hearn, no harm, no foul.
So this: according to RCW 42.23.050 any contract made in violation of RCW 42.23.030 or RCW 42.23.040 is void. Not voidable at the District's option, but void. That means that the District's contracts with the Alliance for Education and the Council of Great City Schools are void. So we can't enforce our multi-year grants with the Alliance, and any money the District paid to these entities was not paid out of a legal obligation. That means that any money the District paid to these entities was a gift – a gift made in violation of the State Constitution. The voiding of these contracts puts the District in a legally and financially vulnerable position.
If the Board had approved the CSIPs when they weren't where the CAO said they were, it would have put the District in a vulnerable position. When the Board approved the NTN contract when the terms were materially different from the District staff's representation of them it put the District in a vulnerable position. Likewise, the voiding of these contracts puts the District in a vulnerable position. No one should be allowed to expose the District in this way.
Breaking the law has consequences.
When the Board considers these Ethics Policy violations, they shouldn't ask So What? Instead, they should consider the deep legal and financial liability these crimes create for the District. They should also consider the willful and arrogant presumption that anyone is above the law or any employee above the policy. They should also consider this: if they dismiss these violations of the law and the policy this time, how will they justify holding anyone else accountable in future?