- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 20, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - State Rep. Todd Huston’s participation in the sale of $1.7 million of equipment to the state has spotlighted how officials obtain waivers from Indiana’s ethics rules.

State law requires workers to wait a year after leaving office before taking a job in the private sector in which they will work on issues they dealt with in their state roles. It also imposes a lifetime ban from doing direct work on certain items they worked directly on for the state, such as contracts.

But since the law was established in 2005, 102 waivers have been granted exempting departing state officials from the “cooling-off period,” according to records provided by the State Ethics Commission. The ethics commission can advise state officials on whether to grant a waiver, but the final decision is left with each agency head.

Huston said Tuesday that he believed he had received an ethics waiver that allowed him to leave his job as chief of staff to former schools Superintendent Tony Bennett in 2010 and return to Cisco, where he had previously sold videoconferencing systems to school districts. He pledged to refrain from working on issues for Cisco involving the Indiana Department of Education for a year.

But Huston mistook an informal opinion from the inspector general’s office issued in November 2010 for an official waiver. He never sought a waiver from the Indiana Department of Education.

Stuart Yoak, executive director of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics at Indiana University, said the decision to let state agency heads make the final call nullifies the effect of ethics rules.

“You just turned the chicken coop back over to the foxes,” he said.

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