Ethics Board: Friends of King CEO Doris Hicks, 3 relatives violated nepotism law

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The Louisiana Board of Ethics has filed charges against Friends of King Schools CEO Doris Hicks and three relatives after finding them in violation of state law aimed to prevent nepotism.

The board determined Hicks violated two state laws for hiring immediate family members and signing checks made out to them, according to the complaint, filed Oct. 17.

The board has also filed charges against three of Hicks’ relatives — her sister, daughter and son-in-law — who worked for charter school network.

The 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, said Ethics Administrator Kathleen Allen. The charges will to go to the Division of Administrative Law’s Ethics Adjudicatory Board, which  will handle the process.

In 2013, The Lens revealed Hicks had hired six relatives, and at least two of those hirings appeared to violate state law.

In fact, the Ethics Board found that the employment of three relatives violates Louisiana law that states “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; Cook received roughly $17,000 for her work. All checks made out to Cook were signed by Hicks, in addition to the principal of King school, which violates state law.

Cook later went on to become a teacher at Craig, but she is covered in that role by an exception that allows immediate family members of the head of a school system to work as a classroom teacher, provided she is state-certified and Hicks doesn’t evaluate her daughter’s performance or participate in any financial transaction with her on behalf of the school.

Cook’s husband, Darrin Cook, was hired by the network in 2006 as head custodian of Dr. 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 penalties against the four, according to the complaints.

The board’s attorney, Tracie Washington, said she doesn’t comment to The Lens.

Washington told the NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune that Hicks “vigorously denies” the charges.

Hicks could face a fine of up to $10,000, demotion, suspension and/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 cases of this nature, 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.

Allen said an initial telephone conference is generally held within a month or two of charges being filed.

Read the document accusing Doris Hicks of violating nepotism law

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