Two Rio Grande City school district trustees filed a temporary restraining order accusing four other members of the board of alleged violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
A visiting judge granted the request from Eduardo “Eddie” Ramirez and Basilio“Bacho” Villarreal, school board president and secretary, to prevent their fellow trustees from meeting on May 9. Trustee Noe Castillo, who is also politically affiliated with Ramirez and Villarreal and ran together on the “Team Hope” slate, was not listed with them as a plaintiff.
Leticia Lopez, Daria Babineaux, Daniel Garcia and Eleazar Vasquez are listed in the TRO as the defendants, and planned to meet Thursday to discuss several items on the agenda, which included finalizing the hiring of a new superintendent, reorganizing board officers and parting ways with the school district’s attorney.
The trustees did not meet Thursday after all.
The meeting was at the center of two TROs, one of which was initially filed in a Starr County court Wednesday, and the second in district court Thursday. The second TRO will remain in effect and a hearing is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. May 17 in the 229th Judicial District Court with Judge Carlos Valdez, according to the order.
Both TROs stated, “There is a substantial likelihood that Defendants have violated and will continue to violate the Texas Open Meetings Act if they are not restrained from meeting” Thursday.
The TROs don’t specify how the trustees in question would be specifically violating the act. However, the TROs cite “proper procedure” when calling meetings, which require posting meeting agendas 72 hours in advance, in accordance with the Texas Open Meetings Act.
The school board meeting was scheduled Thursday at the Ringgold Elementary School and the agenda for that meeting is not currently available on the district’s website. However, the trustees that attempted to meet claim interim Superintendent Roel Gonzalez and Ramirez, the board president, refused to post the agenda.
Baltazar Salazar, the attorney representing the defendants, said a board member did physically post the agenda on district property beforehand.
In March, trustees unanimously announced Vilma Garza as the lone finalist for superintendent. However, Ramirez, Villarreal and Castillo have since publicly opposed Garza’s hiring.
In a statement posted on the Hope for Rgccisd Facebook page, the plaintiffs stated, “They are desperately trying to put their superintendent in place before they can no longer vote. They plan to pay this individual ($70,000 to $80,000) more than the current superintendent even though she has no experience in that position.”
Before Garza can take over the duties, a 21-day waiting period must first be completed. Approval for the proposed superintendent contract and litigation in a construction case were the major components of the agenda for Thursday’s meeting, which had been rescheduled after attempts to meet on April 23 and 30 failed.
“These four board members did not show up at that meeting… and they didn’t show up at another meeting prior to that one,” Ruben Peña, attorney for the school district, said.
Peña said “whether or not what the four board members put together this agenda and signed it, whether that created a violation of the (Texas) Open Meetings Act,” will be determined.
A quorum with proper notice, which is defined as the minimum for members to officially hold a meeting, became a source of contention for the plaintiffs, according to both orders.
“There (are) criminal sanctions for violating the Open Meetings Act…,” Peña said. “I did not want them to be violating the law, it wasn’t just a question of siding with one side or the other but in essence trying to protect these four board members from making themselves susceptible to criminal violations.”
Peña said the judge will decide with a temporary injunction will be granted.
“But the problem that I see is that they’ve had the opportunity to have voted on at least two, if not three of the items that they wanted previously, and they didn’t even show up to those meetings…,” Peña said. “It tells me that they are playing politics.”
Peña also said Babineaux did not consult the district’s attorney for these meetings or for putting the agenda together.
Babineaux, who called the TROs a political maneuver by the plaintiffs, said it’s not necessary to notify the school district attorney to call a meeting.