8:16 AM EST, December 18, 2013
OK class, today's lesson is on the appearance of public impropriety. The expectation is that public officials may not work on the side for companies that do business with the public agencies they head.
A breach of this expectation may not be a violation of the letter of the law and is not necessarily a red flag indicating malfeasance, but such breaches are likely to attract negative attention when they are disclosed. Such situations also tend to make headlines when revealed.
This is a lesson probably well understood now by Dallas Dance, the superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, after news that he had a private gig with a firm that does business with county school system. Dance has since quit his consulting job with the Illinois-based SUPES Academy.
The part-time SUPES job, which paid $15,000, involved coaching Chicago-area public school principals. SUPES performs the same work for Baltimore County schools and will train 25 principals a year for the next three years locally under a $875,000 contract. Dance himself was trained by SUPES in 2011, prior to being hired by BCPS.
After quitting the part-time position, Dance emailed members of the Board of Education, who are his employers, saying, "While I stand unequivocally behind the fact that nothing is being done wrong, after re-evaluation I do believe it is in the Baltimore County Public Schools' best interest for me to not continue in any capacity with the SUPES Academy."
We wonder whether such "re-evaluation" would have happened had his SUPES work remained unknown to the public. His employment contract permits him to do consulting work on the side, but only after getting school board approval. There is no indication he sought such approval and, on Tuesday, he was scheduled to meet with the school board behind closed doors to answer their concerns. We trust that whatever was said in that meeting, it will settle the issue.
We are inclined to believe him when he said he meant had no intention of doing wrong. For a school superintendent, he is youthful and is only in his second year on the job. He's still in the learning curve.
To those who may think Dance has plenty enough on his plate here in Baltimore County — school overcrowding and Common Core implementation for starters — to take even permissible side jobs, it does give us pause, but we are not willing to dictate what any worker does on his or her own time as long as no impropriety is involved.
To end our lesson, we go to this quote attributed to Julius Caesar by historian Plutarch: "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion." The behavior of those in public service, like that noteworthy spouse, should be beyond reproach. Class dismissed.