D.C. Court continues school district election review

D.C. Court continues school district election review

When the Washington, D.C. District Court announced that the Beaumont Independent School District trustee election would be placed on hold and not be validated for May 11, it also asked the interested parties in the case to submit additional information. The case was heard before the court to deliberate whether or not a Texas 9th Court of Appeals ruling constituted “voting changes” that would need to be pre-cleared through the Department of Justice. The 9th Court had ruled that since three current BISD trustees had not filed to retain their seats as ordered by state law, those trustees (Woodrow Reece, Zenobia Bush, and Terry Williams) would not be able to retain their posts although their time in office had not expired. “Intervenors” Donna Forgas, Marcelino Rodriguez, and Linda Gilmore, the 9th Court ruled, had filed for those seats in a timely manner and BISD was ordered to place the intervening candidates on the school district’s May 11 ballot as unopposed candidates for their respective seats.

BISD attorneys have argued that the Board of Trustees has a long-standing practice of not putting all trustees up for a vote after redistricting, and have stated that the board was unaware of the law providing for election of all trustee seats after redistricting – redistricting that was required by law after every new census, the most recent being that of 2010.

Attorneys for BISD have another week to submit briefings to the D.C. Court as to their position, but similar filings were due from attorneys representing the intervening candidates this week. Attorneys Mike Getz, Vann deCordova, Michael Truncale and Hubert Oxford III are representing the intervenors, with assistance from counsel in D.C.

According to the filing on behalf of the intervening candidates, “This court should reject BISD’s attempt to restart the election registration process anew to give its incumbent board members a do-over to register for the 2010 Census Election after they failed to comply with Texas law and register the first time. Finally, the court should order that the 2010 Census election be held as soon as practical because of the strong public interest in having elections go forward at the earliest possible time.”

The claim further states that, “Intervenors are candidates who properly followed Texas education and election laws in order to have their names placed on the ballot for the 2010 Census Election. Following the 2010 census, the board was required to re-divide the district and prepare a new district voting map to ensure that Beaumont’s citizens will not be disenfranchised following population shifts that have occurred since the last federal census in 2000.

“Now, almost two and a half years after the 2010 census, the board still has not completed the necessary steps to secure approval under Section 5 of the Voting Right Act for a new redistricted map. In early 2013, however, time still existed to submit the information necessary to secure approval of a plan and hold the 2010 Census election.”

Still, the attorneys claim, BISD failed to act responsibly, causing there to be legal problems when the district did ultimately call for an election.

“Recognizing their error and seeking to maintain their board positions, the incumbents set about maneuvering to delay the 2010 Census Election so that they could get a second chance to register,” intervenor attorneys contend. “Consequently, the board members dragged their feet on submitting a redistricting plan and providing requested information until it was too late to get approval for their proposed redistricting map, and this court had no choice but to grant the United States’ motion to enjoin the 2010 Census election because it lacked the time and information necessary to determine the validity of (the plan).

“Finally, at a special meeting on April 29, 2013, the board took actions in an attempt to retroactively remedy its failure to provide for incumbent trustees to serve the remainder of their terms in accordance with Tex. Educ. Code § 11.053(a) and also attempted to unilaterally schedule a November 5, 2013 election despite the fact that this Court is currently considering the appropriate date for the 2010 Census election.

“Absent additional authority, such as a court order, the board may only schedule the 2010 Census election on dates provided for in Tex. Educ. Code § 11.0581(a). The board therefore lacked the requisite authority to schedule such an election.”

The attorneys are asking the court to uphold the 9th Court ruling, and “continue to bind BISD and the method by which the 2010 Census Election should be conducted.

“Intervenors’ names (should) be placed on the ballots as uncontested candidates in districts 1, 2, 3 and 5 or otherwise certified as unopposed candidates for the election. The court should order supplemental briefing on the issue of an appropriate date for the 2010 Census election after the court considers the issue concerning the redistricting map for which the Beaumont Independent School District has sought preclearance in this action.”