Somebody sent this to me
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the term “conflict of interest” is “a conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust.” So, if asked whether Susie has a conflict of interest between her role as friend/adviser/campaign manager for Veronica Escobar and her official responsibilities as EPISD trustee, the answer is yes. Susie dredged up and publicly disclosed internal EPISD information designed to hurt Dori and advance Veronica’s bid for Congress. In basic terms, Susie threw EPISD as an organization, her fellow trustees, and the superintendent under the bus to help Veronica’s campaign. EPISD as a school district took a negative hit to its reputation. Normal operations were disrupted. The Board and others got distracted by the sideshow. Relationships have been frayed. Grievances filed. A war of words in the press. Time lost to make the district a better school district. This is a no-brainer – it’s a very clear conflict of interest.
The legal concept of “conflict of interest” in the government sector, however, is very limited. The dictionary does not control, rather, the law does. There is only an unlawful conflict of interest under the law if a trustee violates one of the narrow state or federal laws governing school board trustees. For instance, it violates Texas law for a trustee to demand or vote for the school district award a contract to the trustee herself or a close relative. Or it violates state and federal law for the trustee to take money under the table from a vendor in return for a favorable vote on a contract. Did Susie have a legal conflict under Texas law by throwing EPISD under the bus to help Veronica? No. At least not from anything I have seen or heard.
But, there is more. Texas adopts the concept of a duty of loyalty for public officials. A public official such as school board trustee cannot serve if she simultaneously holds a private position that is conflict with her public role. This is known as the duty of loyalty. If a public official such as Susie takes a job that conflicts with her role as trustee, she may be violating this duty. The Texas Attorney General has issued opinions in the past that if a public official is not in a position to give her undivided loyalty and support to the public body she serves, when at the same time obligated to provide a fiduciary on behalf of a third party, then public policy prohibits that public official from serving. JM-1006 (1989) (county judge breached duty of loyalty by serving on board of voting machine company that sold machines in Texas). Going further, the Texas Attorney has issued opinions that state officials effectively resign when they take positions in the private sector that conflict with their public sector role. O-2929 (1942).
In normal circumstances, serving as a school board trustee and campaign manager for a candidate for federal office wouldn’t conflict. If you asked a lawyer in the abstract whether there is a conflict here, they would say no. But this is not the abstract. In reality, Susie, by her own intentional actions and deeds, created a massive conflict between her two roles. Not only did she disrupt and harm the district for her personal agenda to help Veronica, she is raising money from district vendors to pay her expenses or boondoggles as Veronica’s campaign manager. In so doing, she breached her duty of loyalty owed by law to EPISD as an organization. Let’s put it another way. By whipping up a firestorm of controversy in conflict with her role at EPSID and to support her role as Veronica’s campaign manager, Susie did something she probably didn’t expect – she legally automatically resigned from her role as trustee at EPISD. The EPISD Board needs to accept her resignation and start interviewing replacements.