Citizens closest to school board speak to Broward schools ethics panel
Those closest to the Broward County School system came out to speak Monday night to the recently appointed ethics panel to review the system’s ethics policies for board members and staff alike.
After a large number of high profile arrests in 2009, both the Broward County School Board and Broward County Commission have committees reviewing their ethics code to help prevent abuse of power in the future. The county is expected to have a draft code in March to approve within 180 days, or it will go to the voters for approval (prior to the arrests, voters approved an ethics commission in Nov. 2008 to create a policy), while the school board appointed an unofficial panel (The Commission on Education Excellence Through Integrity, Public Ethics and Transparency) to review policies and procedures of the district.
During a special meeting Monday night at the Dillard Center for the Arts, the ethics panel chosen by Broward Superintendent James Notter held its first public hearing to hear from constituents what needs to be changed.
Former staff, a current employee, legislative representatives, school committee members and others in the community came out to speak with the panel, comprised of Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, former state of Florida attorney general and W. George Allen, a long-time resident and prominent attorney in Fort Lauderdale.
“I am deeply concerned about the policies of this department (the special investigative unit of Broward County Schools),” said one former teacher to the panel. “It’s a hostile environment for teachers and I request an investigation into this unit.”
Michael Marchetti, a project manager in the facilities department agreed, asking for the panel to create a channel for staff to openly communicate and not feel retribution.
“I attended a recent workshop (to address concerns) and was labeled a disgruntled employee,” said Marchetti who also spoke about closed door meetings. “There’s a very deep culture of secrecy.”
Another speaker, Aaron Nevins, legislative aide to Florida State Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff presented legislation she is introducing that would create a Broward County Office of Inspector General in order to detect misconduct by elected and appointed County officials and employees. The office would have the authority to inspect any audit, contracts, programs, records, accounts and more and a fee imposed on all contracts equal to one-quarter of one percent (.25%) of the contract price added to each contract to cover the expenses of the new position. Bogdanoff is expected to introduce the bill in the 2010 legislative session and put the questions before the voters in November if passed.
Others had concerns about whether any recommendations from the panel would actually be implemented since no legal language was available to force the board, superintendent or staff to implement,
“It’s curious that there’s an ethics committee—we’ve been giving recommendations for years and they (get thrown out),” said Patti Rhodes, whose daughter goes to Pompano Beach High School. “I’d like to see recommendations actually become deliverable. There’s no power here to impact or actually make something happen—if they don’t have to do, they will not do it.”
The panel, which listened more than spoke during the hearing, told the attendees that not only would the process be transparent, but that they would be bringing the recommendations directly to the board, and would use their political muscle to get the ethics code passed.
“But it’s not enough to talk about transparency—it must be transparent with all meetings posted on a web site that’s user-friendly—now you cannot find what you are looking for,” said Marilyn S. of Pembroke Pines (exact name not verified since left before BrowardNETOnline.com could speak with them). “Tell them to stop talking accountability and make them accountable. (I mean), who is being held responsible for the swampland (the school board purchased land that has now been revealed as unusable on the western edge of the county) or all the overtime pay.”
Some complaints referred to powerhouse school board meetings that lasted all day, which takes away transparency, speakers said, because most people cannot attend those lengthy meetings (Meetings are also broadcast on cable channel 19 and satellite channel 63 as well as on the radio at 88.5 FM).
Several members of the school board’s Facilities Task Force (minutes of the Task Force are here) also spoke, citing concerns with access to the board members to present recommendations, or even being allowed to speak at discussion workshops about their recommendations, citing they have seen a number of issues with different projects being pushed through.
“The problem is the culture—and it’s scary that its gotten to this point—and the board in the past and current board are very disregarding of public input,” said Nick Sakhnovsky, a facilities task force member, long-time Floridian and parent of a student in the school system.”
A few spoke about the audit department which reviews any audits of the school district, saying it was understaffed, with only a small number of audits necessary actually were getting completed. (The school board will meet for a workshop Jan. 19, at 10 a.m., and one of the items is a change in the office of the school auditor -documents showing the changes are here.) Other suggestions included term limits for school board members, with consistent training for those members.
Charlotte Greenbarg, president of the Broward Coalition, and member of the audit committee gave some very specific recommendations for an ethics code. Currently, the school board does not appear to have its own code of ethics, and instead, upon a review of school board policies by BrowardNETOnline.com, is held to the state ethics code for public employees. Many of Greenbarg’s suggestions however, appear not to be in the state code
Her suggestions included:
-No board member shall serve on a selection committee (they chose the companies that manage or construct projects)
-No board member or his/her spouse/significant other shall lobby the board or staff
-No employee shall lobby the board for two years after leaving employment.
-All messages including electronic ones (email, texting, etc…) are public records.
-All auditors’ findings must be acted upon without delay
-All violations of policy and law must ave meaningful consequences.
While Greenbarg listed a number of others, most related to lobbying and removing board members/lobbyists from various committees.
The committee has not yet scheduled another meeting or public hearing, but information can be found at http://browardschoolsintegrity.org/. Feedback can also be sent via a contact form on the site.
- Broward School Board Ethics Panel to Hold Second Public Hearing
- School board creates ethics commission
- School board ethics panel holding final public hearing in March at Cooper City High
- School Board Ethics Panel to Hold Preliminary Workshop
- Broward school board changes meeting times
Short URL: https://browardnetonline.com/?p=5813