One of North Texas’ largest school districts is dodging a request for public documents by Texas Scorecard. The request was for the campaign finance reports of their board members, documents that should already be posted on the district’s website.
The request submitted by Texas Scorecard’s Metroplex Bureau to the Fort Worth Independent School District came after the school board rescinded their ethics policy adopted earlier in 2017. The now-rescinded policy required officials to disclose conflicts of interests between campaign donors and private companies who hold contracts with the district.
The disclosure policy was repealed in August prior to the board voting to place a massive $750 million debt proposal on the November 2017 ballot. Following the bond’s approval by local voters, officials will now consider awarding contracts to private vendors for a variety of projects.
Texas Scorecard submitted its public information inquiry on October 13, 2017, specifically requesting the campaign finance reports of FWISD board members. The law requires the district to respond in 10 business days. But district staff reacted in a manner consistent with entities seeking to evade disclosure. They first delayed, responding with incomplete information 11 calendar days later on November 3. Then, Joanna Talley of the ISD’s Office of Legal Services did not return our follow up phone call.
By November 8, our bureau still had not received any response from Talley, so a complaint was filed with the Texas Office of the Attorney General (OAG). On December 19, the OAG sent a letter to Talley advising her of the situation and giving 10 business days to either release the information or provide them a legal reason as to why it should be kept confidential. According to state law, nothing our bureau requested is exempted from public disclosure.
Again, the campaign reports should be posted on the district’s website.
To date, our bureau has not received the information still missing from the original request, nor have we been contacted at all by anyone in the ISD’s Office of Legal Services. But Texas Scorecard isn’t the only organization facing obstruction. A request for report of the PAC support the bond’s passage has been requested by Direct Action Texas, a public document FWISD has so-far refused to release.
Either Fort Worth ISD is showing signs of administrative ineptitude, or a blatant disregard for the rule of law and the right of taxpayers to obtain public records. It raises the question: Who is funding the political campaigns of school board officials, and why the obstruction?
The board’s repeal of their former ethics policy immediately raised suspicion. Even the local newspaper’s liberal editorial board rightly blasted its repeal. But the district’s dodging of a lawful request for campaign finance reports further confirms our suspicion. It appears FWISD board members don’t want anyone shining a light on potential conflicts of interest between themselves, their donors, and district vendors. Texas Scorecard will find out why.
*Robert Montoya also contributed to this article.