Best of #StateReads: Texas Judges Disciplined in Secret

By: - April 17, 2012 12:00 am

This week’s collection of #StateReads covers judicial discipline in Texas, a key question about Illinois’ Abraham Lincoln collection and a review of how states handled federal stimulus money to improve failing schools.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to [email protected].

“Texas judges’ misdeeds often kept secret by oversight commission” — The Austin American-Statesman

When Texas judges are disciplined, the public is kept in the dark about key details, reports Eric Dexheimer of the Austin American-Statesman (@AASInvestigates). For example, a judge got in trouble for telling a lawyer he could avoid contempt charges by donating “a large sum of money” to a charity closely connected to the judge, but the identity of that judge and the charity remains a secret, Dexheimer writes. The Commission on Judicial Conduct reveals details only in major cases, and the state constitution limits how much it can disclose. The newspaper reviewed a decade’s worth of cases before the commission and found out punishments were often handed out unevenly.

“Electing to sleep elsewhere” — The New York Times

Several governors have decided against taking one of the biggest prizes of their elected office: residence in a governor’s mansion, reports Jodi Kantor (@jodikantor) of The New York Times. Kantor, also known for her recent book on the Obamas, notes that governors in Colorado, Idaho, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Ohio and Michigan live in their own homes rather than the state-provided mansion. “Blame a desire to minimize the ever-greater scrutiny of public life, along with changing tastes and the current politics of austerity,” Kantor writes. “Who wants to live in a Downton Abbey house on a Tea Party budget?” Nomination from Jake Grovum (@jgrovum).

“Was famous stovepipe hat really Abe Lincoln’s?” — Chicago Sun-Times

The State of Illinois owns a stovepipe hat in its collection of Abraham Lincoln collection valued at .5 million. But Dave McKinney (@davemckinney123) of the Chicago Sun-Times reports on one major problem with the iconic piece: No one can prove that Lincoln ever wore the hat. It does come from Springfield at around the time Lincoln lived there, but no one can say for sure how a southern Illinois farmer ended up with the hat.

“Turnaround Watch: The school improvement grant program” — The Hechinger Report, Education Week and others

A massive influx of federal stimulus funds spurred several states to overhaul their teacher evaluation systems and led to dramatic improvements in their lowest performing schools. The changes came over the last three years, as the federal government spent billion in stimulus funds to boost the School Improvement Grant program. Despite those improvements, Education Week (@PoliticsK12) and news outlets in 16 states found the program had mixed results overall. Some states pulled the federal funds from schools that did not show immediate progress.  

“Delaware’s defense against floodwaters is failing” — The (Wilmington, Del.) News-Journal

In Delaware, the nation’s lowest-lying state, engineers say many levees are on the verge of failing, and one big reason for their sorry condition is that no one in the state is clearly in charge of maintaining them, writes Melissa Nann Burke (@nannburke) of The News-Journal. “Responsibility for maintenance among government agencies and property owners has been fragmented, uncoordinated and inconsistent,” she writes. Many of the dikes protecting against flooding were built in Colonial times and have not been repaired since the 1950s. But few state or local agencies can afford to fix them now.

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