By The Dallas Morning News
The Dallas Area Rapid Transit board needs to clean up its act. DART’s board of directors should take a fresh look at the agency’s code of ethics, its enforcement and its in-house policies in light of questionable hiring practices.
DART’s ethics code prohibits the agency’s hiring of a former board member for one year following the end of that person’s term. Yet, a former member and local pastor who left the board last summer after 10 years, in a Dallas City Council appointment shake-up, has been hired as a temporary, part-time worker to help with civil rights outreach and minority contracts.
The code contains a clause that allows the board by two-thirds vote to waive the one-year prohibition when presented a written statement. Yet, in the recent case, no waiver was sought; the board was only notified of the hiring in advance of Dallas Morning News columnist Robert Wilonsky’s recent article.
The column noted that three former board members now hold high-level positions (two vice presidents and general counsel) with the public agency. While there’s no policy outlawing this practice, there is an appearance of clubbiness.
According to DART spokesman Morgan Lyons, neither the one-year prohibition nor the waiver applies to the $35-an-hour job in question, because the hiree is an at-will, temporary, part-time employee who does not have a contract with DART. “Our hiring rules allow us to bring in such employees as needed,” he said.
These “hiring rules” need to be re-examined as they pertain to a former board member or that member’s immediate family. So does the ethics code, which was passed in 1991 and may deserve an update to shore up any loopholes.
At the very least, the one-year prohibition should extend to part-time, temporary employees. And any hiring rules should require that all jobs be posted to ensure an opportunity for competition. The recent job in question was not, and no one else was interviewed.
The ethics code states that board members should not “grant any special consideration, treatment or advantage to any entity which is beyond that made available to any other similarly situated entity.”
To carry out the intent of that statement, the board needs to be better informed by staff and be party to sensitive hires. It is also now incumbent on DART administrators to report to the board what work is being done in the name of civil rights and minority contracts by the new hire.
This is a public agency that answers to taxpayers, not a private business where friends can be hired on a handshake “we already know you” basis. Even if there is no impropriety, DART must guard against even the appearance of it.