DALLAS — Facing a federal investigation of past practices, the North Texas Tollway Authority has adopted a new ethics policy that requires extensive disclosure and tighter strictures on conflicts of interest.
Approved unanimously in a meeting Wednesday, the new policy requires board members to file annual reports on their income, major investments, and firms or partnerships in which they hold leadership positions.
The board also named tollway general counsel Thomas Bamonte its permanent ethics officer, who will decide when a board member should abstain from a discussion or a vote or report income from a company with tollway authority ties.
The policy comes as the NTTA is devising new procedures for bidding out its business, including maintenance contracts and outside counsel, currently led by the firm of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell.
The law firm has held the position with the NTTA or its predecessor agency since 1954, according to the Dallas Morning News.
While McCall, Parkhurst & Horton has served as bond counsel for the NTTA for the issuance of more than $7 billion of debt, Locke Lord has maintained a firm grip on outside counsel work.
Though the NTTA opened bidding to competitors to Locke Lord in 2005, none of the bidders was interviewed, according to the News.
NTTA chairman Kenneth Barr, who was elected to the position last fall, is the brother of a Locke Lord attorney, though Barr has said his brother is not involved in tollroad business.
Barr, the former mayor of Fort Worth, helped associates land legal work with the NTTA without disclosing his full connections, according to news reports.
As an NTTA board member before he was named chairman, Barr in 2011 proposed that the minority-owned firm Newby Davis be hired for work on a tollway under development known as the Chisholm Trail Parkway.
The firm is headed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s former chief of staff, Brian Newby, and state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.
Barr, Newby, and Cantey Hanger attorney David Chappell formed a partnership named Barr Newby Chappell Consulting in 2009, the Star-Telegram reported.
When the tollway board voted unanimously to hire Newby Davis, Barr said that he didn’t ask the authority’s legal counsel whether he should abstain because of his past relationship with Newby and Chappell, calling it an oversight.