Jim Hinson was superintendent of the Shawnee Mission School District for four years, and he proved to be intensely controversial during that time.
Turns out, controversy is still dogging him.
Hinson today is working on the school governance team for EdCounsel, a law firm that specializes in public schools and has offices in Overland Park, Independence, Springfield and Columbia. That presents an issue.
Hinson went to work for the firm only about six months after his retirement became effective on June 30. Over the years, Hinson and the Shawnee Mission district gave EdCounsel a lot of work.
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In fact, according to the Shawnee Mission Post, the district hired EdCounsel shortly after the firm was founded and then increasingly relied on it over the years. During the last school year, EdCounsel billed the district $405,111, up from $188,823 in 2015-16 and $69,982 in 2014-15.
Hinson had a connection to Duane Martin, the first name listed on EdCounsel’s legal team, prior to joining the Shawnee Mission School District. When Hinson served as superintendent of Independence schools, the district employed Guin Mundorf LLC, the law firm where Martin worked at the time.
So the two go back a few years.
The appearance of all this naturally raises questions. Did the six-figure sums that the Shawnee Mission district paid to EdCounsel help Hinson land a plum position at the firm? And why did it take a journalist to uncover the relationship?
Hinson isn’t talking. He declined to return phone calls to The Star seeking comment, as did Martin.
No question Hinson was free to seek employment following his unexpected retirement from the district last year. And there’s no doubt that EdCounsel spent a lot of time on Shawnee Mission School District business. Among the issues the firm worked on was a lawsuit by a former Shawnee Mission East biology teacher who alleged she was transferred to Shawnee Mission West because the district wanted more black teachers at the school.
But appearances are critical to maintaining faith in our public institutions. And the appearance here raises eyebrows. That’s why lawmakers in both Kansas and Missouri have considered measures that mandate cooling-off periods when lawmakers go to work for lobbyists after they leave office. The concern is that legislators might use their votes to curry favor in a bid to land a well-paid lobbying gig.
Missouri now requires that lawmakers wait six months before they can return to the Capitol to lobby their former colleagues. “Public officials should not use their positions for private profit,” Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican, said during debate on the revolving-door bill.
Kansas is now considering a one-year ban, which is a reasonable proposal. State Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat and House minority leader, said his legislation isn’t aimed at stopping anyone from using the relationships they’ve made to earn a living. But he is arguing that some time should pass before legislators take a job lobbying colleagues.
“Cool off those relationships so there is no perceived or actual influence on legislators.” Ward told the House Elections Committee.
Today, 26 states ban lawmakers from lobbying for a year after they leave office.
Kansas and the Shawnee Mission School District should consider similar bans for high-ranking officials, such as school superintendents and gubernatorial chiefs-of-staff. No less than the integrity of those positions and the image of government itself are at stake.