Although the municipal elections in Beaumont included mayoral and city council candidates the most watched issue on the ballot Saturday, May 14 had to do with the Beaumont Independent School District and a movement to change the representative system from seven single-member districts to five single-member districts with two at-large positions - a plan similar to what is in place with the Beaumont City Council.
Members of the group B.E.T.T.E.R. first had to get a petition together - a process that began a year ago - and collect enough signature to put the proposition on the May 14 ballot. Once they had the necessary signatures (more than 12,000 in all) they had to convince the public to to out and vote in favor of the new plan. That wouldn't be an easy task because black leaders in the community formed the group B.E.S.T. in opposition and tried make the proposition about race rather than representation. Their racist rants were caught on tape by The Examiner during a rally at the Compro Event Center, where reporters were forbidden from bringing in cameras or audio recording devices. However, that didn't stop The Examiner from capture the entire rally on a hidden digital recorder so the public could hear the racist comments made by leaders of B.E.S.T.
"And let me tell ya, we got a different kind of enemy,” said Paul Jones, a leader of the B.E.S.T. group said of the B.E.T.T.E.R. group and others wanting to change BISD. “We got a different kind of enemy today. Now, I didn’t have any problem with the Ku Klux Klan. Because ya know what they did? They told ya who they were. And they told ya they didn’t like ya. And they told ya to your face. But the enemy today will put they arm around you, and stab you in your back. Stab ya right now. You got a enemy now that will come into your house and eat your food. We lookin’ at it right now tonight."
The comments made during the rally proved what members of the B.E.T.T.E.R. had believed all along but didn't have the evidence to show to the public. The group contended from its beginning that it was a grassroots organization that simply wanted to change BISD's representative system because there were members of the board of trustees that refused to listen to the public. In fact, one trustee Janice Brassard, pointed out that nowhere in the board of trustee's rules was it required for her or any other board member to listen or even acknowledge the public's will or comments.
But members of B.E.T.T.E.R. believe that attitude may change because voters spoke loudly at the polls approving the proposition by a margin of 56 percent or 10,836 votes to 8,479 votes with 20 votes still not counted because an issue with a ballot box at the St. Pious Catholic Church. Those votes will be counted Monday but will have no impact on the outcome of the election.
"This is a great night and I am very excited about what has taken place," said Mike Neil, co-chairman of B.E.T.T.E.R., who was also elected to the Trustee District 5 position with 63 percent of the vote. Neil was being challenged by LaFayette Spivey, who took only 159 votes and Kelli Fowler, who received just 846 votes to Neil's 1,733. "Not all of the candidates that B.E.T.T.E.R. put forward won their respective elections but this is a start and it's a clear message to BISD that the people of this community want change. They want to see their tax dollars spent wisely and they want to have representation on the board of trustees that will listen to what they have to say and will act in the best interest of the entire community, not just a select few."
In fact, Neil was the only candidate of the B.E.T.T.E.R. movement to win a seat on the board but none of the candidates were down about the evening. Donna Forgas, who challenged incumbent Terry Williams said there will be other elections but the greatest thing that happened Saturday night was that voters sent a message.
"The proposition passed and that was the most important thing," Forgas told The Examiner at B.E.T.T.E.R.'s victory party being held at Madison's on Dowlen Road. "This was a good night. Terry received more votes but the community spoke out and I will be right there the next time to challenge him again."
Those sentiments were shared by candidate Marcelino Rodriguez, who took on BISD board president Woodrow Reece in the race for Trustee District 3. Rodriguez said he was not discouraged and that he would continue to be involved in the community, specifically BISD, so that he could bring a voice to the table for all citizens of Beaumont.
"You know I don't have anything to be ashamed of," Rodriguez said. "I fought a clean fight and that is what is important. The proposition that B.E.T.T.E.R. was supporting passed and that means great things to come for BISD because now citizens will have even more of a say about how the school district conducts it business."
Linda Gilmore, who challenged incumbent Gwen Ambres, knew she had a tough fight from the outset but she was not discouraged and maintains she is not giving up on being a voice for citizens wanting change in BISD. She said trustees can expect her to continue speaking out at their public meetings and standing up for what is right.
In the race for Trustee District 2, Paula Blazek took on former BISD trustee Zenobia Bush. Bush received 73 percent of the vote and will return to a role on the board she vacated nearly two decades ago.