Conroe, February 5 – Courier blog Editor Andy Dubois’ directorship on the Board of Leadership Montgomery County raises serious questions about his “independence” as a journalist.
Let’s be clear: Leadership Montgomery County is a non-profit organization that puts on a good program that introduces individuals to the government and community organizations of Montgomery County. The program has a good reputation and many superb people number among its graduates. This article is not a criticism of LMC or its graduates. Did you read that carefully? This article is not a criticism of LMC or its graduates.
The problem arises in that LMC does depend upon substantial outside funds for its business operations. Certain governmental entities contribute those funds. Dubois is a member of the LMC Board of Directors. Corporations operate and act through their Boards of Directors. Among those entities who contribute substantial amounts to LMC on a regular basis are the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), Montgomery County Hospital District, and several area school districts.
The SJRA connection to the LMC Board of Directors is particularly troubling. Montgomery County citizens currently pay steep rates for water due to very restrictive regulations that the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District (LSGCD) has imposed on the use of groundwater. LSGCD actually limits private water well usage. The primary beneficiary of LSGCD’s regulatory restrictions is SJRA which has forced utility companies, municipalities, and private users to purchase surface water from it since LSGCD restricts groundwater use. SJRA’s Executive Director, Jace Houston, sits on LSGCD’s board.
A major issue among this community’s citizenry is the hostility of LSGCD’s board of directors to the interests of private citizens. The City of Conroe and several large groundwater producers are suing LSGCD over the unreasonableness of the regulatory restrictions. SJRA is also involved in similar litigation with the City of Conroe. SJRA’s Jace Houston is a regular presenter in the “curriculum” of LMC. Just two days ago, on Friday, February 3, LMC’s current class spent an entire day at SJRA to learn from SJRA representatives and others about SJRA’s role in Montgomery County.
For a journalist to be truly independent, he can’t be dependent on or beholden to elected officials or other government officials. The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics provides: “Act Independently. The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public. Journalists should…avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.”
Dubois should reconsider his involvement on a Board of Directors, albeit a fine organization, that depends upon financial contributions from SJRA, MCHD, and other governmental entities about which the Courier blog regularly reports. He should avoid that conflict of interest, real or perceived. He should have disclosed the conflict, because that might have explained why the Courier blog has so slowly reported matters pertaining to SJRA, the LSGCD, and their relationship to water usage and rates.
Dubois did not respond to requests for comment. He’s a good journalist, but he can do better ethically in this one respect.