Posts Tagged ‘open government’

Statement by Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director of the Texas office of Public Citizen

It’s time to unshackle Texas’ ethics watchdog and give it some teeth.

A recent study by the  Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity found that when it comes to government openness and accountability, Texas ranks in the lower half of all states.

While the language of the laws received a B- grade in the study, when it came to implementing the laws (or disclosing and enforcing them), Texas got a D+

Among the faults found in the study, four stand out as most egregious: The Lone Star State’s poor financial disclosure laws make it almost impossible to tell when an officeholder has a conflict of interest; lobbyists can make unlimited contributions to legislators to influence policy; contributors or their employees can be appointed to regulatory agencies – and adopt policies to benefits their business interests; and the revolving door is kept spinning by loopholes that allow government officials to go to work for the businesses they regulated or had legislative control.

While Texas should be performing better, the ethics commission isn’t to blame. It has been handcuffed since it started. Instead of policing the politicians, the watchdog is protecting them.

It is time for Texas to get tough on political crimes, stop protecting the politicians and treat the ethics commission as if it were just another professional regulatory agency. The commission should have the authority to take enforcement actions and hear complaints without needing to check in with a board of political appointees.

The Ethics Commission will undergo Sunset review this year. In advance of discussions about necessary reforms for the commission, which are slated for April 10, ethics watchdog groups will make public a comprehensive reform package. It’s time to give Texas the ability to rein in out-of-control, unethical behaviors.

Check out the excellent coverage of this issue by the Texas Tribune

Texas Gets a D+ in Public Integrity Study

Texas: The story behind the score

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Board Promises Transparency, Whistleblower Protections, Open Meetings

AUSTIN, Texas – The first meeting of the new board of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) on Monday marked an unprecedented change in leadership and vision for the nation’s largest electric cooperative. Not only is the majority of the board progressive reformers, but it is led by an entirely new executive body that has promised to prioritize transparency, accountability, whistleblower protection, renewable energy and energy efficiency new priorities.

“The PEC has an opportunity to be a national leader among co-ops. Board members see that the future of electric power in America lies with energy efficiency and renewable energy,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. “Public Citizen Texas applauds the board’s openness and commitment to member rights and looks forward to working with directors in the future as they further investigate how to make their visions reality.”

Considering that just last year the co-op was deep in the midst of a scandal involving accusations of misappropriated funds, theft, money laundering, closed meetings and tainted elections, Monday’s meeting marked an incredible turnaround.

PEC held a special meeting Monday to seat newly elected board directors Christi Clement, Patrick Cox and Larry Landacker. During this meeting, the full board held the elections for the positions of president, vice president and secretary for the coming year.

Landacker was nominated for president and elected with six votes in favor and one abstention;  Clements secured the vice presidency with four votes in favor and three abstentions, and Kathy Scanlon was unanimously elected to the position of board secretary.

During his acceptance speech, Landacker announced that the board would begin working immediately on several projects to reform the co-op and move toward becoming a more environmentally friendly, sustainable business. Landacker plans to adopt a co-op members’ Bill of Rights, guarantee open access to meetings, implement a new whistleblower protection policy and create a new and open governance system for the co-op. These laudable measures will ensure that members have the opportunity to participate fully in their co-op and in decisions, and that workers are encouraged to act in the best interests of member-owners.

Landacker also pledged to move forward aggressively with the co-op’s goal, set last November, to purchase or generate 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. As a part of this effort, the co-op plans to create new programs to encourage energy efficiency and renewable energy projects among individual members.

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