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Money flows freely in Texas politics, where contributions to most candidates are unlimited and lobbyists are powerful. Read more from SII State Reporter Kelley Shannon.
It wasn’t quite cold enough to need a vest on a mid-November Texas morning, but Matt Dossey was wearing one anyway. Made of heavy-weight beige canvas, the vest just might have been concealing a pistol. There was no way to tell. Perhaps that was the point.
Dossey is the superintendent at Jonesboro Independent School District, a compound of three low, pale-brick buildings sandwiched between broad oak trees in the back and a horse pasture across the road up front. Jonesboro is a tiny community nestled in the rolling Texas scrubland 110 miles north of Austin, but aside from the schools, a post office and two churches, there’s little to suggest a town.
In January, the district adopted a policy of arming a select group of staff members with concealed weapons as a deterrent and defense against a potential school shooter. Jonesboro straddles the border between Coryell and Hamilton counties, and it’s more than 15 miles to the nearest sheriff’s department. The town is unincorporated, so it has no government and no police. If someone were to attack the school, Dossey said, no one’s coming to protect the kids — not quickly, anyway.
When Texas’s biennial legislative session began earlier this year, many advocates for tougher ethics laws sounded an upbeat tone. Since a large crop of new lawmakers was coming aboard, some said at the time, 2013 was the year for bold reform.
But on Sunday, the legislature ended those hopes. An ethics bill was indeed passed, but it failed to include most provisions that watchdogs had pushed for. During a conference committee between the Senate and the House, lawmakers stripped several amendments that would have required online financial disclosure, exposed “dark money” in state campaigns and required lawmakers to disclose financial interests in businesses that receive state contracts.
Among the state’s biggest cities, several sprawling Dallas-area suburbs tallied the highest rate of requests to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last year to keep government information secret, according to a recent examination by the Center for Public Integrity.
The probe examined the number of attempts by the 20 largest Texas cities to block public requests for information in 2011, then looked at how those numbers stacked up for each city, according to the rate of requests per 100,000 population. The “winners” were not the state’s biggest cities. McKinney had the highest rate of requests asking that Abbott allow the withholding of documents sought by citizens under the Texas Public Information Act. Next up were McAllen, Garland, Mesquite, Plano and Arlington. Fort Worth was ranked eighth and Dallas ninth, giving the Fort Worth/Dallas metroplex seven of the top 10 in the rankings.
State Integrity News for Texas from SII partner KERA:
Texas is one of just six states that select all of its judges in partisan elections. Critics say that creates conflicts of interest and politics becomes more important than qualifications. In the third part of “Texas Judges: Out of Order,” we look at the pros and cons of the way Texas selects judges and some alternatives.
Listen to the story from KERA - Dallas.
State Integrity news for Texas from SII partner KERA:
Complaints about Texas judges are usually handled in secret and rarely lead to punishment. That’s what state lawmakers heard when they met to review the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, the agency that disciplines judges.
Citizens testified that the agency’s secrecy makes it impossible to know whether Texas’s 3,910 judges are being held accountable. Austin attorney Bennie Ray told lawmakers that even when judges are punished it’s a slap on the wrist in a closed meeting.
“There’s no way for the public or a voter to easily track a judges complain history. Judges could have a number of informal complaints and nobody would know about them,” Ray testified.
Read and hear more from KERA - Dallas.