Up until now, the commission had followed what’s already in the state employee ethics handbook. The new rules, proposed by commission chair Barry Smitherman, take things a bit further. “Adopting this policy is an important step to maintaining the public trust,” Smitherman said in a statement.
“Since [Smitherman] became chair, he’s been reviewing all the policies and procedures at the commission, and this is one that he found was deficient,” says Casey Haney, the chairman’s chief of staff. “So we thought it was important to address it sooner rather than later.”
Under the new policy, for the first two years after leaving the commission, former commissioners and executive directors must send all of their communications with the agency through the open records coordinator at the commission, just as any outsider would. The idea is to set up a more formal barrier.
If an employee at the agency is contacted by a former commissioner or executive director, they’re supposed to report it to the agency. “Failure on the part of the current commission employees to comply with these procedures will be documented, and may result in disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment,” the new policy says.
The policy also says former commissioners and executive directors can’t appear before the agency “with the intent to influence agency action on behalf of any person and in connection with any matter” in the first two years after they leave the commission.
Staff at the commission are restricted from going back to the agency to influence projects they worked on, like a pipeline approval, for instance.
The commission also hopes that the new policy will send a message to not just its employees, but also industry and the public as well.
Here’s the full version of the new policy:
And you can read more about revolving door issues at Texas regulatory agencies in our earlier story, Revolving Door: Oil and Gas Companies Hire Former Texas Regulators.