Hays County Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) stands on the right, next to Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos).
Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) will introduce a new ethics policy at Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting aimed at priohibiting the county from contracting with businesses that have defrauded the United States military, or engaged in unethical or fraudulent behavior at the federal, state or local level.
“We ought to put our money where our morals are – at least where our laws are,” Barton said. “It’s rare for local governments to require that professional contractors meet this kind of ethical standard. I don’t think it should be. If you’re a big corporate cheater then you may deserve a chance at redemption, but you don’t deserve more of our tax dollars, not until you’ve paid a price and mended your ways.”
Barton calls his policy “Ethics Begins at Home.” If approved, it would take effect immediately.
Barton introduced the proposal after Houston-based KBR was declined a contract with the county. Local veterans of the Iraq War veterans protested a possible county contract with KBR on the FM 110 project for $600,000 worth of engineering work. KBR is under investigation by the U.S. Army for negligence that led to at least one death of a U.S. serviceman in Iraq. A KBR executive was also found guilty of bribery in a separate incident.
Barton’s proposal would prohibit firms that have recently been convicted of a felony or crime of moral turpitude, such as fraud, from doing business with Hays County for a period of five years. The same holds for subsidiaries, or for companies in which a key executive is convicted and remains employed with the company.
The proposal also would require companies under active investigation by the federal, state or local governments to disclose that as part of their submittal of qualifications when seeking work in the county. Firms also will be required to make formal disclosures if key employees are found guilty of crimes in the commission of their jobs during the bast five years, and when company or key executives have been found guilty of violating sexual or racial harassment laws within the past two years.
“There are plenty of good, honest companies hungry for work,” Barton said. “Growing as fast as we are, and given where we’re located between Austin and San Antonio, we have no shortage of professional firms wanting to do business with us.”
Barton continued, “Our incentives and contracts should be structured to discourage destructive behavior, and to hold executives and companies responsible for their actions. If you want to make a business decision to maximize profits by playing loose with the rules, jeopardizing people’s lives, cutting corners – fine. But, then as a society, we’re going to seek to punish that behavior under the law. And we’re going to follow-up where it hurts some of these companies the most – in the bottom line.”
Barton said he considered the policy before the KBR contract became widely known, but the testimony the veterans gave against KBR, “… caused him to think in broader terms, and to hurry up his work,” according to a statement released through Barton’s office.
“It’s time we made ethical conduct and performance an explicit part of our definition of what it means to have acceptable qualification,” Barton said.
To be adopted, Barton’s ethics proposal only needs a simple majority of the five person court. If approved, the next step would be for commissioners to instruct county staff and attorneys to develop a final policy.
The court meets on Tuesdays at 9 a.m., in the Hays County Courthouse.