The Louisiana Board of Ethics has filed civil charges against Doris Hicks, a well-known New Orleans charter school leader, and three of her relatives after finding them in violation of state laws aimed at preventing nepotism.
The board found that Hicks, CEO of the Friends of King Schools, broke two state laws in hiring immediate family members and signing checks made out to them, according to the complaint filed Oct. 17.
The board also has filed charges against three of Hicks’ relatives — her sister, daughter and son-in-law — who worked for the charter school network.
An attorney for the network said Hicks denies the charges.
The state’s ethics administration program oversees the Code of Governmental Ethics.
The origin of the complaint is confidential, Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen said. The charges will to go to the Division of Administrative Law’s Ethics Adjudicatory Board, which will handle the proceedings.
In 2013, The Lens, an online news site, reported that Hicks had hired six relatives and that at least two of those hirings appeared to violate state law.
The Ethics Board decided that employing three of the relatives violates the relevant statute, which reads, “No member of the immediate family of an agency head shall be employed by his agency.”
Hicks was hired as the principal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology in the Lower 9th Ward in September 2006. In August 2008, she took on the role of CEO and continued to serve as principal of King.
The Friends of King Schools board also runs Joseph A. Craig Charter School in Treme.
In 2012, Hicks hired her daughter, Monique Cook, to do consulting work, paying her about $17,000.
All checks made out to Cook were signed by Hicks, in addition to the principal of King School, an alleged violation of state law.
Cook later went on to become a teacher at Craig, but state law allows immediate family members of the head of a school system to work as classroom teachers, provided they are state-certified, are not evaluated by their relative and do not participate in any financial transactions on behalf of the school.
Cook’s husband, Darrin Cook, also was hired by the network in 2006, as head custodian of King School. Spouses of children also fall under the “immediate family” designation under state law.
Between the 2010-11 and 2013-14 school years, he received $182,530 in pay, according to the Ethics Board filing.
Hicks’ sister, Iris Ponson, received about $86,000 over four years as a hall monitor.
A hearing will be conducted to assess the potential penalties against all four, according to the complaints.
The board’s attorney, Tracie Washington, declined to comment, though she told nola.com that Hicks “vigorously denies” the charges.
Hicks could face a fine of up to $10,000, a demotion, suspension or reduction in pay. Between Aug. 2, 2010 and June 2014, Hicks earned $540,768, according to the filing.
There is no specific time frame for these particular types of cases, Allen said. Similar charges brought against school leader Paulette Bruno in 2012 for employing and promoting her daughters-in-law are still pending.
Allen said an initial telephone conference is generally held within a month or two of charges being filed.
This article originally appeared in The Lens