Thursday, August 31, 2006

Scofflaw School Board models “law breaking” for 98,000 of our sons and daughters.

New Mexico State Statute 10.16.3 describes the ethical requirements of public service. It reads in significant part: (emphasis added)

10-16-3. Ethical principles of public service; certain official acts prohibited; penalty.

A. A legislator, public officer or employee shall treat his government position as a public trust. He shall use the powers and resources of public office only to advance the public interest and not to obtain personal benefits or pursue private interests incompatible with the public interest.

B. A legislator, public officer or employee shall conduct himself in a manner that justifies the confidence placed in him by the people, at all times maintaining the integrity and discharging ethically the high responsibilities of public service.

C. Full disclosure of real or potential conflicts of interest shall be a guiding principle for determining appropriate conduct. At all times reasonable efforts shall be made to avoid undue influence and abuse of office in public service.

A. The Board and senior Administration decided that they will no longer be accountable to the same code of ethics as students. It is difficult to imagine how this decision serves the public interest. In so far as their decision provides exception to accountability for ethical and criminal misconduct, including felony criminal misconduct; the decision serves self interest and violates the statute.

B. The members of the School Board are required to discharge their responsibilities ethically. How does excepting oneself from accountability for ethical and criminal misconduct qualify as the ethical discharge of the high responsibilities of public service?

C. School Board President Paula Maes is married to the President of the Modrall Law Firm; an APS vendor that makes a great deal of money by, among other things, saving senior administrators and board members from accountability by preventing the principled resolution of allegations of ethical and criminal misconduct. Has this conflict of interest been fully disclosed; or is it the third strike?

Paula Maes is the President of the Character Counts Leadership Council. She, other board members, and the Superintendent are the senior role models for the District’s 98,000 students. Students are required to model and promote the Pillars of Character Counts. If they are expected to embrace character and courage and honor; someone has to show them what that looks like. Paula Maes, the Board and the Superintendent have each and every one, made it clear that they will not be held accountable as role models for students.

That is against the law.

Unfortunately, they will not be held accountable; powerful people cannot be held accountable against their will. The statute dates from at least 1978. In the Second Judicial District, there has never been a prosecution under the statute. The records clerk suggested, “I guess it has never been needed.”

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Is ethical reform really an issue in upcoming elections?

According to the dictionary, ethics reform is an issue if it meets certain criteria. Among those criteria, ethics reform would have to be; in a state of controversy, in disagreement, under discussion or in dispute, a matter that is in dispute between two or more parties, a vital or unsettled matter. It would seem that ethics reform is an issue.

Why then, doesn’t it feel like an election issue? It doesn’t feel like an issue because there is no debate. One would assume that if there were disagreement over a vital issue there would be debate. Yet there isn’t.

Why not?

Let’s look at the sides in the debate. We can safely assume that a majority of voters support ethics reform in public service. We can also safely assume that a majority of public servants oppose ethics reform. What?

Ipso facto; “by the fact itself”.

If public servants supported ethical reform, accountability to a higher standard; they would have provided for it long since. That they have not provided for it is proof that they do not support it. It is not a new idea; it has been considered and rejected.

OK, so we have two sides, and still no debate. Why not? It is fair to say that those who support ethical reform would eagerly debate it. But it takes two to tango. Those who oppose ethical reform will not debate; they cannot debate. The lack of ethical reform serves no purpose but the selfish and special interests of those who oppose it. Their position is categorically indefensible. Were they to argue against ethical reform, it would be at the forfeit of their political careers. So they choose simply; no debate.

How can they simply choose not to debate? First, it is a prerogative of power that one does not have to answer inconvenient questions. The more powerful you are; the more important question you can ignore. The combined weight of all public servants, who oppose honest accountability to a higher standard of conduct, is more than enough weight to suppress a relative handful of upset voters.

There is only one mechanism that is capable of consistently uniting the powerless; the media.

Yet the media is conspicuously absent. Sure they cover the salacious scandals; they advocate change, and they disingenuously urge voters to (somehow) demand ethical reform. But they don’t and won’t insist that those who oppose ethical reform defend their position.

The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education and senior Administrator have decided that they will not be held accountable to a higher standard of conduct. They made the decision without public input or debate. They refuse to explain or defend it. They refuse even to admit that they have made it. The decision is relevant to the election of board members and referendums on tax issues. The issue is relevant, it is germane, it is a case on point, and it has not been reported by the media.

Is it as simple as the fact that the Board President, Paula Maes is the President of the New Mexico Broadcasters Association? Can one person cast that large a shadow? The Journal and Tribune offer no alternative explanation.

Ethical reform in public service should be an issue in upcoming elections. It will not be because the media have decided that it will not be. And because it is not an issue, there will be cosmetic change at best. Nothing will change.

Ched MacQuigg

Saturday, August 26, 2006

...and Modrall makes three.

From Modrall’s website:

Our clients' interests are at the heart of everything we do.

Were they, or the leaders of APS accountable to the same standard as students, at the heart of everything is a principled resolution; even if it is not in your clients “interests”.

The School Board, the (senior) Administration, and the Modrall Law Firm are united in the effort to except themselves from honest accountability to a meaningful standard of ethical conduct.

The three are “one” in more than one way. Modrall makes a great deal of money from APS. The President of the School Board is married to the President of Modrall. A convenient asset; a large law firm with a virtually unlimited budget (courtesy of unwitting taxpayer support of “education”) to help you push the agenda of exception to accountability, even to allegations of criminal misconduct.

As the President of the Character Counts Leadership Council, School Board President Paula Maes has perhaps the greatest obligation of all to model honest accountability to the Pillars of Character Counts. She models only hypocrisy. The members of her council apparently do not know the truth. They haven’t been told the truth. A deliberate effort has kept them uninformed; a monumentally egregious betrayal of trust. They apparently don’t know that their President is busily excepting herself from accountability to the Pillars upon which they have taken a stand.

You would suppose that all of this intrigue would be newsworthy. And of course it is; but it turns out that Paula Maes is the President of the New Mexico Broadcasters Association. You will notice that the story has not been reported.

* The leadership of a public school system decided that it will no longer be accountable to the student standard of conduct; a widely recognized, accepted and respected code of ethics.

* When they made that decision, they ignored the right of stakeholders to participate meaningfully in that decision. They enjoyed the advice and consent of no one; no subordinate administrator, no teacher, no student, no parent, no Character Counts advocate.

* And now they have decided that they will not discuss or defend their decision (they’re powerful enough that they can do that).

* And that it will not be reported in the media.

What? ??

Friday, August 25, 2006

role modeling ends with modeling hypocrisy

It is ironic that Paula Maes is unwilling to hold herself accountable to the Pillars of Character Counts as she is the President of the Character Counts Leadership Council.

an historical perspective on accountability

Thoughout history, man has expected the next generation to be the first to hold themselves honestly accountable to a higher standard. This knowing full well, that it must begin with their own.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Standards of public service; whose call is it?

Corruption and incompetence are the two greatest stumbling blocks in efficient and effective government. Were public servants held to a higher standard of conduct in the discharge of their duties, corruption and incompetence would be minimized in proportion to the height of the bar.

The bar is currently set at its default height of compliance with the law, the lowest standard of acceptable conduct. The height of the bar is set by elected officials; in complete disregard of the expressed wishes of those whom they represent.

The School Board of the Albuquerque Public Schools has been asked to raise the bar; and they have refused. Although they compel students to hold themselves accountable to a higher standard, a widely recognized, accepted and respected code of ethics; they refuse to hold themselves accountable to the same standard.

Forgetting for the moment that the standard is rightly set not by the board but by their constituents; they do owe us some manner of explanation as to why they are setting such a low standard for themselves. After all, they are the senior role models for six thousand teachers and other employees, and for 98,000 of our sons and daughters. And within the next few months, they will ask voters to trust them with a half a billion tax dollars.

They have an obligation to defend their decision to reject accountability to a higher standard of conduct.

They have not so far, defended their decision. They can not and will not because their position is indefensible. They have fallen back on the defense of powerful people defending indefensible positions; they simply ignore the question.

The media in general and newspapers in particular, have an (unenforceable and often ignored) obligation to keep voters informed on issues germane to their informed participation in democracy.

If you agree that some kind of explanation is appropriate and that the media have some obligation to investigate and report it; please make your feelings known.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Three strikes and you’re out. If only.

For the third meeting in a row, the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education and its Superintendent, sat in silence rather than admit honest accountability to any recognized code of ethics.

As the senior role models for over 100 thousand students and employees; they will not model accountability to a code of ethics. However, they do still require students to hold themselves accountable to a code of ethical behavior. It would seem that their obligation as role models ends with modeling hypocrisy.

As, would be, stewards of another half a BILLION tax dollars; they are not compelled to guarantee that the money will be spent ethically; in the best interests of taxpayers and students. They will offer I’m sure, an assurance that they can be trusted.

Assurances that money will be spent ethically are meaningless. One system that provides honest accountability is worth a million assurances that such a system is not necessary.

As role models and stewards of the public trust and treasure, the decision to eschew honest accountability to a code of ethics is indefensible. But of course the decision doesn’t require a defense. If you are powerful enough, you don’t have to defend your position.

If you have the cooperation of the Journal and Tribune, non defense is a piece of cake. Despite almost daily reporting of scandals and the need for ethical reform, and almost as frequent editorials encouraging voters to (somehow) demand ethical reform; these newspapers still have not reported on the story. Each has a reporter on scene; they know what is happening. They simply choose to disregard their (unenforceable) obligation to provide for informed decision making by voters.

Albuquerque is victim to an egregious betrayal of trust; by the leadership of their schools and by the newspapers they look to for the truth.

Somebody should do something.

Ched MacQuigg

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

they won't answer the question

You have two candidates standing before you. One is willing to be held accountable only to the law, the lowest acceptable standard of conduct. The other is willing to be held accountable, honestly accountable, to a widely recognized, accepted and respected code of ethics. The difference is significant. Power spent ethically is spent in the public interest. Power spent “legally” is spent according to special interests and self interest. The first ethical use of power is to ensure that it cannot be abused; ever. The first ethical use of power is to provide honest accountability to an unequivocal standard.

Why is it unreasonable to ask the question which will distinguish the one candidate from the other? To what unequivocal standard and by what inescapable mechanism will you be held accountable?

The idea of holding powerful people accountable for their conduct is not new. It has been thought of, and the people to whom we entrusted our power, decided not to provide it. They decided not to provide for honest accountability; even to the law. Or does anyone still believe that really powerful people can be held accountable, even against their will?

There are men and women who will accept the public trust, but who will not answer the question. By their own choice, powerful people are not asked inconvenient questions. One of the immediate accouterments of power is that you don’t have to answer inconvenient questions. There is only one reason not to answer the question, and that is that the truth is worse than the lie.

This isn’t about what unequivocal standards are. We all know what that means. Human beings choose for themselves the standard to which they will hold themselves accountable. If that standard does not meet the needs of voters, voters have a right to know.

This isn’t about the meaning of inescapable accountability, which will be defined by stakeholders, and will meet their needs. It will be the best effort of dedicated and capable individuals whose work is not only transparent; it will be illuminated. It isn’t about can it be done? It is about will it be done?

If the people to whom we entrust our power were inclined to protect us from its abuse, we would not need that protection now. Corruption exists only because it can exist. If there were a conscientious and deliberate and transparent effort to make corruption and incompetence impossible to hide, there would be an end to (almost every conceivable) corruption.

Accountability is fatal to the abuse of power. The first intelligent abuse of power is to eliminate accountability for abusing power.

Is it so unreasonable to demand than every candidate for public trust tells voters about the standard to which they will be held accountable? It is only because the question is asked by the powerless that it will not be answered, ever.

There is only one way to compel a powerful person to stand and deliver; overwhelming public pressure.

If the newspapers asked the question, and asked it, and asked it; it would get answered. But they won’t. They won’t even ask once. And they write editorials about how important it is that voters demand higher ethical standards for public servants.

There is a head on this pimple. The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education has refused to be held accountable to the same ethical standard of conduct as they impose upon students. They sat in silence rather than answer the question. As role models, their position is categorically indefensible. As stewards of a half a billion tax dollars, their position is categorically indefensible. Clearly they have an obligation to hold themselves accountable to a higher standard; their position is indefensible. Yet powerful people are able to defend indefensible positions simply by ensuring that they never actually have to defend them.

The board ignores me when I ask the question. They ignore me even in diametric opposition to their ethical expectation for children. The can ignore me because they are powerful and I am not.

Certainly I am not powerful by myself. The only hope seems to lie in the last refuge of stakeholders betrayed; large crowds on street corners. I don’t know where the tipping point is, but I do know that if enough people show up a public forum, sooner or later they will have to answer the question. Sooner or later the people who enjoy our trust will respond by holding themselves accountable to a higher standard of conduct; at least the same standard of conduct that applies to children.

Large crowds on street corners are hard to come by; especially if the newspapers won’t tell the story. And they won’t. It is up to the internet.

Someone else first observed that, there is no stopping an idea whose time has come. If honest accountability to an unequivocal standard seems to you like an idea whose time has come, I would very much appreciate it if you shared this letter with as many people as you can. I would appreciate it if you would attend how ever many public forums it takes to make our position clear. It is the voters who will determine the acceptable standard of conduct for school board members and senior administrators. And we will not allow that decision to be made without our appropriate involvement.

Thank you for your time and attention.