A resolution calling for the cancellation of the May 11 Beaumont Independent School District trustee election on April 29 has prompted another legal battle with litigants asking a court to determine if school board trustees overstepped their boundaries in instituting such a measure. BISD attorney Melody Chappell acknowledged at the April 29 school board meeting that the board did not have the capacity to cancel an election; however, immediately following the revelation, the board voted 5-2 to do just that.
Attorney Mike Getz, as part of a legal team representing a group of potential BISD trustee candidates, claims the act by the BISD board is trying to end-run around a Texas 9th Court of Appeals ruling, which ordered his clients put on the school district’s May election ballot as unopposed candidates for their respective seats.
“In response to the illegal actions taken on April 29, 2013, by the Beaumont Independent School District, in which they passed a resolution that ignores various provisions of the Texas Education Code and the Texas Election Code, (a) lawsuit was filed (April 30) in Texas State District Court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief,” Getz stated. “The lawsuit seeks to prevent BISD from implementing the resolution that they passed. We will seek a hearing as soon as all parties have been served and a judge has been assigned. The public will be able to see from the language within this lawsuit exactly which statutes BISD has been alleged to violate.”
Getz, on behalf of clients Marcelino Rodriguez, Donna Jean Forgas and Linda Marie Wiltz Gilmore, filed a complaint against defendants the Beaumont Independent School District, Woodrow Reece, Terry D. Williams, Janice Brassard, Gwen Ambres and Zenobia Randall Bush alleging, among other things, that, “BISD is required to hold a joint election for its board trustees, and on February 21, 2013, BISD ordered an election for May 11, 2013, which would have been ‘the first regular school board election at which trustees may officially recognize and act on the last preceding federal census.’”
The filing details the 9th Court ruling, which required BISD to put Getz’s clients on the school board’s election ballot as unopposed candidates. “The board was unmoved,” the filing contends, “and voted to re-institute the old trustee district lines and adopted what amounted to a new election order.
“By doing so, the board sought to rob plaintiffs of their uncontested place on the election ballot by hopefully avoiding the operation of Tex. Educ. Code § 11.052(h) and thereby keep the former District 1, 2, and 3 incumbent trustees in office beyond May 2013, the same trustees who neglected to file for re-election. The board’s new election order also set a filing period for candidates that had already passed, thereby precluding any new candidates from running in the next election.”
Proceedings for BISD’s May election were ultimately enjoined by a Washington, D.C. District Court, which ordered the election on hold. Getz claims BISD is now laying groundwork to implement changes out of order with what is legally required.
“The D.C. court neither canceled the May 11, 2013, election or any related part of it,” the court briefing filed by Getz states. “The court’s preliminary injunction also did not order that a BISD trustee election be held in November 2013 nor did the court enjoin, set aside or invalidate any part of the (9th Court’s) March 18, 2013’s opinion and judgment. The D.C. court did not direct BISD to order a November 2013 trustee election or to cancel the May 2013 election, or any part thereof.
“At the April 29, 2013, special meeting, the board also by affirmative majority vote of the same five trustees adopted a resolution authorizing and directing BISD’s attorneys ‘to take all steps to cancel the May 11, 2013, election.’ In advance of the meeting, counsel for plaintiffs wrote BISD’s counsel warning that the proposed measure would violate the Texas Election Code in several respects. The board, with the advice of its attorneys, elected to ignore the caution.
“BISD adopted the said resolution, and in violation of material provisions of the Texas Election Code and the Texas Education Code, to harm and deprive Plaintiffs’ of their vested state-law rights as uncontested candidates in new trustee election districts 1, 2 and 3, respectively, and in connection with the first, post-redistricting trustee election.
“Plaintiffs are the clear targets and victims of the board and defendant trustees’ wrongful action, including BISD’s violations of the Texas Election Code and the Texas Education Code. The board majority made clear in adopting the resolution, and in other venues, its expressed intent to harm and undermine plaintiffs’ rights in order to preserve in office until May 2015 current BISD Trustees Reece, Williams and Bush who all neglected to file for re-election. The board and defendant trustees’ actions were also intended to harm plaintiffs, and plaintiffs alone, by undermining and hopefully circumventing the Beaumont (9th Court’s) opinion and order that confirmed and upheld Plaintiffs’ election-related rights.
“BISD, through its attorneys, have expressed publicly its intent to use and offer the legally invalid April 29, 2013, resolution in the pending D.C. Court action to further BISD’s actual goal of divesting plaintiffs’ of their rights… again all in an attempt to keep Trustees Reece, Williams and Bush in office. The board and defendant trustees failed to comply with the applicable law, and want Plaintiffs to suffer the consequence.
“Plaintiffs thus seek a declaration of this court that the board and defendant trustees lacked authority under Texas law, including under the Texas Election Code, to order, conduct, implement and/or to proceed with a trustee election in November 2013, and that the board’s resolution to this effect was and is unlawful, ultra vires, of no legal effect and/or is void.”
Getz continues, “BISD and defendant trustees simply will not comply with the law unless ordered to do so by a court. Keeping the three above-mentioned incumbent trustees in office until 2015 is simply more important to defendant trustees.
“BISD and the defendant trustees suffer no legally cognizable harm or injury by complying with applicable law. In fact, it is of significant public interest, as such interest is expressed by the relevant statutes, for BISD, a government entity, and defendant trustees to comply with the Texas Election Code, Texas Education Code and other applicable law. BISD, as such, should have no interest whatsoever in keeping any trustees in or out of office.”
Jennifer Johnson can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 231, or by e-mail at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com.