Scott Schneider, vice chair of the Louisiana Board of Ethics has resigned from the Board of Ethics, just weeks after The New Orleans Tribune reported in its May/June 2013 issue (“Kira, Kira on the wall” New Orleans Tribune May/June 2013 P.5) conflict of interest questions in an Ethics Board case involving state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Kira Orange Jones.
Schneider, who also serves as an associate general counsel for Tulane University, resigned in a four-paragraph e-mail from his Tulane University account without giving any specific reason. According to media reports, Schneider sought reappointment to the board in 2011. Has a double barreled conflict of interest has perhaps backfired on one party?
At the August 17, 2012 meeting of the Board of Ethics, it considered a request for an advisory opinion as to whether BESE member Kira Orange Jones could continue to work as New Orleans executive director of Teach for America while she served as a member of the BESE. TFA holds a lucrative contract with the Louisiana Department of Education. BESE must approve all contracts and expenditures of the Department of Education, putting Orange Jones in the position of voting on a contract that benefited her employer.
The experienced staff attorneys for the ethics board informed the board of directors that the state “Code of Governmental Ethics would prohibit Kira Orange Jones, while she serves as a member, from providing compensated services to Teach For America at a time when TFA has or is seeking a contractual, business or financial relationship with either the Louisiana Department of Education or the Recovery School District.”
In spite of the staff’s recommendation, Schneider argued against the staff recommendation and he failed to disclose the partnership between his employer, Tulane University and Teach for America. Tulane University’s Cowen Institute lists Teach for America as a partner on its website and the two organizations have worked closely together on education reform initiatives in recent years. After nearly twenty minutes of Schneider’ strong advocacy on behalf of Kira Orange Jones against the staff attorneys’ recommendation, he convinced his fellow board members to reject the staff recommendation and ignore Kira Orange Jones’ clear conflict of interest in violation of the Code of Ethics. Schneider essentially argued that because Orange Jones was only head of the New Orleans office and not the entire organization no conflict existed.
On July 3, 2013, just weeks after The Tribune commented on the August 2012 Ethics Board meeting, Schneider informed Gov. Jindal’s office that he was resigning. And some still concerned about the ethical implications of Orange Jones’ roles at BESE and TFA are hopeful that the ethics board might reconsider its opinion. Or perhaps, like Schneider, Orange Jones would tender her own resignation of one of the powerful seats she holds.