Rules allow relatives to serve together; voters have last word

The issue of nepotism has been raised among some voters in the upcoming Waxahachie ISD Board of Trustees election.

While nepotism in politics has been an issue that traditionally reserved for quiet conversations over a cup of coffee and plate of eggs in breakfast establishments, this week’s head-to-head is an ideal forum to discuss the elephant in the room — out in the open — presenting as many facts as possible.

In nearly every school board election, the issue raises its head whenever a candidate is running for a seat on the school board and their spouse is employed by the district.

While that remains a topic of conversation among voters, this year’s election includes the candidacy of Mickie Hill, whose son-in-law James Villarreal currently serves of the board trustees. Additionally, Hill’s husband David serves on the Waxahachie City Council. Among the questions that have been posed in breakfast shops, on Facebook and in letters to the Editor include: Is this legal? Is there a conflict of interest? Wouldn’t this lead to collusion when making key decisions?

First, let’s answer those questions.

There are no rules prohibiting relatives from serving together if elected by voters to the board of trustees.

The Waxahachie Independent School District has a detailed, comprehensive ethics policy governing both elected officers and employees. Should there be a conflict of interest, all school board members are required to acknowledge the conflict and abstain from decision-making process. The rules are very specific. They are even more specific — and stringent — for board members who have a relative employed by the district.[1]

In fairness to Hill, she and I have visited on numerous occasions concerning various issues facing the district — including this one. She has been sincere, candid and transparent in every discussion. I have found her to be tenacious when it comes to research, fact-finding and consensus building. Most importantly, I am convinced her only issue is to make the best decisions that will benefit the entire district. In regard to the concerns about collusion, I believe Hill and Villarreal are both independent-minded individuals who reach conclusions on their own after thorough research and discussion. In this case, I don’t see collusion being an issue. However, that’s a perception issue voters will decide for themselves.

In the May 7 election, five candidates are running for two seats on the board: incumbent Floyd Bates, along with challengers Dusty Autry, Hill, Amy Hedke and Joe Langley. Candidate Melissa Starnater had filed to appear on the ballot, but suspended her campaign in March. I find that unfortunate, as I believe Starnater, as with the other candidates, would prove to be an outstanding trustee for our district if elected.

All of the candidates in this election are truly outstanding individuals and all are dedicated to serving the needs of the district. Like every voter, I have a very difficult decision to make on May 7. The difficulty lies in having a full slate of qualified individuals vying to serve our public education system — and my votes won’t be biased on the basis of family relations.

While the perception for impropriety exists, the safeguards in place under the WISD code of ethics makes that scenario highly improbable.

Ultimately, voters will make the final decision on who is elected to serve. Just the way it should be.

Perception is often more important than reality, — which is why it is extremely important to discuss the elephant in the room. The more information available to voter, the better informed they will be in making a decision.

 

[1] Readers can view the WISD ethics policies at the following links:

 

http://pol.tasb.org/Policy/Download/433?filename=BBFB%28LEGAL%29.pdf

 

http://pol.tasb.org/Policy/Download/433?filename=BBBB%28LEGAL%29.pdf

 

http://pol.tasb.org/Policy/Download/433?filename=BBB%28LEGAL%29.pdf

 

Neal White is the Editor and General Manager of Waxahachie Media Group. His recent novel, “Crosswinds” published by The Next Chapter Publishing, is available at Amazon.com. Contact Neal at nwhite@waxahachietx.com or 469-517-1470. Follow Neal on Facebook at Neal White – Waxahachie Newspapers Inc., or on Twitter at wni_nwhite.