Wednesday 16 April 2014

Ethics Complaints Against Katy ISD Officials Dismissed

The Texas Ethics Commission has ruled that email sent by two Katy Independent School District administrators on district computers – the subject of highly publicized TEC complaints – did not amount to a violation of election law.

FortBendNow has learned, however, that the commission’s findings may not end the matter for the two.

Katy ISD Communications Director Kris Taylor said ethics complaints filed against Ronald Jetton and Janine Phillips both have been dismissed. Jetton, executive director for campus administrative support, and Phillips, executive director for elementary instruction, chose to allow the district to make public the fact they were exonerated, Taylor said.

Letters from the Ethics Commission “essentially said that a single email does not constitute political advertising” especially without containing a specific political endorsement, Taylor said. “It was pretty cut and dried.”

Phillips said she is “pleased, though not surprised, at the Texas Ethics Commission’s decision to dismiss the complaint.

“When you dedicate 27 years of your life to educating children, it is difficult to have someone question your integrity, professionalism and your ethics in any manner, let alone in such a public manner,” she said. “That is a bell you can’t ‘un-ring.’ The TEC’s ruling, however, provides a sense of satisfaction, resolution and closure.”

“As I have always done,” Phillips said, “I will continue to focus my attention and energy on educating the children of Katy ISD.”

Jetton also said he is “pleased with the dismissal of the complaint by the Texas Ethics Commission,” adding, “This will hopefully provide some resolution to this issue.”

There’s a possibility it may not. Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey is expected to send several dozen complaints to the Ethics Commission on Monday or Tuesday.

And while Healey would not reveal any of the names in the complaints from his office, he also would not rule out the possibility that Jetton and Phillips are among those named in the new complaints.

Healey’s office, and the Texas Rangers, have spent months investigating use of Katy ISD school computers for political purposes.

The probe began after Jetton, then-executive director for secondary education, sent an April 20 email to school principals suggesting the district would be better off if incumbent board members won the upcoming election.

Fred Hink, a 2004 candidate for the Katy ISD Board of Trustees, filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission against Jetton after Jetton’s email was made public and filed similar complaints in July against Janine Phillips, executive director for elementary instruction at the district, and retired Katy High School swim coach Dana Abbott.

Hink said on Thursday he hasn’t received documentation from the TEC and can’t comment on why the complaints were dismissed.

“Because the email scandal is still under investigation by the Fort Bend District Attorney’s office, I also do not want to comment about further action until Mr. Healey releases the results of his investigation,” Hink said. “I wish both Ms. Phillips and Dr. Jetton luck for I am sure they feel vindicated.”

Meanwhile, Abbott said neither he nor his attorney has heard from the Ethics Commission about the status of his case. And while he believes the complaint against him also will be dismissed, the process has left him angry.

Abbott said he sent an email from his home computer to friends on his email list, some of whom were at the school district. He said he made a statement that because “these are dire financial times” for the district, “this may not be the time to change horses in the middle of the stream.”

However, Abbott said that while his statement could be construed to favor incumbent candidates, his email never mentioned a candidate by name, and urged recipients, regardless of which candidates they favored, to exercise their right to vote.

Abbott also said the complaint against him made mention of statements on his personal web site, and that there was a link to it from the Katy High School site. But until the complaint was filed, Abbott said, he had been unaware anyone had linked to his site.

He said he learned that, in order to save time, someone had decided to link to his personal site, which includes significant information about high school swimming, rather than create a web page on the Katy High School site devoted to the high school swim team, which Abbott used to coach.

“It’s hurt me tremendously. I’m very hurt by it,” Abbott said of the complaint. “I’ve lived in the Katy community for 25 years and I’ve got, essentially, a sterling reputation. And nothing I did broke any of the rules. It seems the complainant is making it personal, and that bothers me.”

For his part, Hink has maintained that there was nothing personal in his actions.

“Regardless of any findings, the purpose of my actions was not a witch-hunt,” Hink said. “Actions by certain administration officials and other KISD employees during the campaign for school board in May exposed a serious breach of public trust.”

“It is paramount that regardless of the findings by any legal authority that the KISD School Board investigates the actions of all KISD employees during this election and the institutional controls which obviously failed and releases the findings to the public as soon as possible,” Hink said. “The integrity of future KISD elections rides on the board’s actions, not the Texas Ethics Commission or the Fort Bend DA.”

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