Advisory Council on Ethics (ACE)
Advisory Council on Ethics Opinion No. 14
November 9, 2001
The Advisory Council on Ethics received a question regarding the use of state resources and offender labor for remodeling of a state-issued house.
The request was sent to the Advisory Council on Ethics in an anonymous letter. The reportee stated that work was performed on a state house, which was in good repair with the exception of some rotted wood, due to termite damage. However, the reportee believed that a lot of the work performed was for cosmetic reasons that were "totally unnecessary and extravagant." A list of work performed included the following:
- Replacement of every doorknob in the home, at a cost of over $2,000 in materials.
- Replacement of bathtubs and sinks.
- Light switch plates and electrical covers, because they were the "wrong color."
- New toilets.
- Flooring was replaced in the kitchen and bathrooms when there were no worn areas in the original flooring.
- All kitchen and bathroom cabinets were unnecessarily removed and refinished.
- Installation of a new air conditioning system, when the old one was in good condition.
- New screen doors, for the purpose of updating.
- Replacement of a door because the original door had a window where one was not wanted.
ED-10.06 "Repair of Facilities" states that property owned by TDCJ is maintained with state funding. Because of this, policies and procedures are in place governing the type and amount of work performed. Under state law, no expenditures exceeding $25,000 in a biennium per housing unit can be made for remodeling or repairing a housing unit. The directive also states that cosmetic and personal preference/convenience projects requested by occupants, but are not essential to the units continued use for its intended purpose, shall be termed "Capital Improvements." Capital Improvements are subject to the availability of the agency funds and can only be approved by the Construction Review Committee (CRC).
While the work performed on the state owned house is reportedly "unnecessary and extravagant," it is within policy if the proper procedures were followed in obtaining the approval of the CRC prior to initiating the project. The allegation that the work performed on the house was "unnecessary and extravagant" is subjective. The occasional updating of state property is sometimes necessary in maintaining the value of the property. Members of the CRC are tasked with the review and approval of such projects; therefore, they should be mindful of taxpayer's money when making decisions regarding work performed on state property. It is the opinion of ACE that the updating of the residence was acceptable if proper procedures were followed in obtaining approval for the work.
The second issue regarding this incident, involved the use of offender labor performing the work on the state owned house.
BP-11.76 TDCJ "Benefit Policy" states that offender labor may be used to provide maintenance and upkeep to state property and equipment.
It is the opinion of ACE that the use of offender labor to perform work on state owned property is acceptable and within policy. Additionally, the use of offender labor saves money.