BISD meetings incite violence, court battles
A three-hour long Beaumont Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting held Thursday, March 21, ended with one trustee facing assault charges and the majority of the board voting to bring in two $375-an-hour Houston lawyers to ready for a legal battle at the Texas Supreme Court.
Trustees met with their Houston lawyers, Scott Brazil and Chad Dunn of the Brazil & Dunn law firm, on Monday, March 25, to discuss the Supreme Court proceedings and other contemplated litigation in relation to appealing an appeal’s court ruling that would require BISD to hold a May 11 election. Because of their failure to file to retain their seats, the election will ultimately replace half of the school district’s Board of Trustees.
BISD trustees have now filed proceedings with the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas 9th Court of Appeals, a Washington district court, and the Department of Justice to prevent the court-ordered outcome.
The Thursday, March 21, meeting included roughly 45 minutes of public comments focused mainly on the recent Texas 9th Court of Appeals ruling ordering a May 11 BISD trustee election utilizing a redistricting map adopted by the trustees Feb. 21 and subsequently rescinded on March 8. The court ruled the March 8 action void since BISD trustees’ decision to rescind the Feb. 21 map left the district with only a 2001 districting map that was out of compliance with federal provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Also as part of the court’s ruling, all the district’s trustee seats would be up for election May 11. Three current trustees – District 1’s Terry Williams, District 2’s Zenobia Bush, and District 3’s Woodrow Reeece –did not file to retain their seats and would be removed. They would be replaced with the only persons to file for those seats. Donna Forgas in District 1, Marcelino Rodriguez in District 2, and Linda Gilmore in District 3 did file for those seats in a timely fashion, the court ruled. Forgas, Rodriguez, and Gilmore are to be added to the May 11 ballot as unopposed candidates for their respective seats.
Allegations of race-baiting and loser’s remorse peppered the citizen comment section March 21, with one man having to be escorted from the speaker’s podium by BISD police. One person speaking on behalf of the current board trustees who are fighting to keep their seats said, “When I went to the poll, I voted for the person I wanted to represent me and my child;” and claimed the opposition, “was on a hateful and vindictive mission to take down this board.” Citizens in favor of the 9th Court of Appeals ruling said this day has been long coming: “This is not because of what we are doing, it’s because of what you are doing – and what you have done.”
Following the public comments, which included roughly 20 speakers, a member of the audience was approached by District 1 Trustee Terry Williams in a hostile manner, resulting in a physical confrontation. According to the alleged victim, Williams hit him “with a chest-bump” before asking him to “take this outside.” BISD Police Sgt. Danny Moore said he was investigating the matter, and the victim did file assault charges against the elected board trustee.
Williams then entered a closed executive session with the rest of the board, where again tempers flared to the point of physical confrontation. Several trustees could be heard yelling before exiting the private room, with District 7 Trustee Janice Brassard attempting to leave the premises with a bevy of school officials and BISD police trailing behind in efforts to get her to stay. Brassard did stay – for a little while. She never returned to her seat after the executive session ended.
The remaining trustees returned to finish the meeting, however, affirming a new Ozen High School head coach in Keith McGee and a new legal team in that of the Houston-based Brazil & Dunn.
After the weekend break and a subsequent Monday, March 25 meeting, BISD trustees announced that the collective board would seek proceedings in multiple courts around Texas — and the country — challenging the 9th Court of Appeals’ decision.
“We have citizens who have a right to be represented by the candidate of their choice,” BISD Trustee Gwen Ambres said. “We need to exhaust all avenues so that people do not feel they have been disenfranchised.”
Those who support the 9th Court of Appeals’ ruling, such as Beaumonter Mark McClellan, say they are already disenfranchised with the representation of the BISD board of trustees.
“You made your bed, the courts have rendered their ruling, now lie in it,” he said.
BISD board attorney Melody Chappell said any new voting scheme enacted in Beaumont for the May election would first have to garner Department of Justice clearance before it could be effective. According to her, a package was submitted to the DOJ for approval March 19. BISD officials released a statement Tuesday, March 26, insisting that the district is taking steps to comply with 9th District Court of Appeals ruling.
“Beaumont Independent School District is taking all necessary steps to comply with the 9th Court of Appeals decision, while also seeking a review of that decision by the Texas Supreme Court,” the statement read. “Because the Court of Appeals’ decision requires BISD to begin immediately implementing the seven member district plan, it is necessary for BISD to seek immediate preclearance of these new districts and election procedures from the federal court in Washington, D.C. BISD submitted for administrative preclearance on March 19, 2013; however the district is not expected to receive a response from the Department of Justice for at least 60 days.
“BISD cannot continue with the election under federal law until preclearance is received, but state law requires there to be a May 11, 2013, election. As a result, the action taken by the Board is a critical step toward obtaining federal preclearance of whatever election procedures are to be implemented.”
The same day BISD released word it would comply with the Court of Appeals ruling, district lawyer Chappell filed a motion with the same court asking the justices to “stay,” or hold off, on the court’s prior ruling. The Court of Appeals issued a swift verdict – denied – on Wednesday, March 27.
Mike Getz, an attorney for candidates Forgas, Rodriguez, and Gilmore, said he wasn’t surprised by Chappell’s filing, or the Court’s ruling in the motion.
“I never thought for one second (the 9th Court of Appeals justices) were going to grant her request for a stay,” he said. “They would have granted that stay in the first place if that’s what they wanted.”
Getz added that his clients will also intervene in a federal court filing made by Beaumont ISD supporter Paul Jones, who is asking the court to delay the May election due to the current districting map not having received Department of Justice preclearance yet.
“We’re going to seek to intervene in that case,” Getz said. “The position we’re going to take is to echo the decision of the 9th Court of Appeals.
“There has been no denial of preclearance, and there is no reason to believe clearance will be denied. It’s still in the pipeline.
“Basically, Paul Jones’ request for relief is premature.”
Additional court proceedings are expected to be filed in regards to BISD trustees most recent refusal to place current District 5 Trustee Mike Neil on the May ballot. Neil’s trustee seat was not one of the positions declared by BISD to be up for a vote this May, but is subject to the 9th Court of Appeals ruling which ordered that all BISD trustee seats be up for a vote. Neil filed to retain his seat prior to the March 1 deadline, also acknowledged by the appeals court.
“On behalf of my co-counsel, David Vann deCordova, Jr., Hubert Oxford IV and Michael Truncale, I would like to convey the satisfaction that our client’s feel in seeing that the rule of law is being applied in this case,” Getz said. “While we understand that there is a portion of this community that is understandably upset that candidates which they voted are may lose their position on the board of BISD with time still remaining on their term, it must be noted that those incumbents are responsible for knowing what the law is and they have a highly compensated attorney to advise them with any questions they may have had on the matter.”