LA CASITA-GARCIASVILLE — Meeting in a small, humble event center here, four trustees of the Rio Grande City school board were able to meet after multiple attempts from two other board members to block them from doing so.
The attending board members — Eleazar Velasquez, Daria Babineaux, Leticia O. Lopez and Daniel J. Garcia — approved major changes during Tuesday’s meeting which included finalizing the hiring of Vilma Garza as their new superintendent, replacing the school district’s attorney, and reorganizing the board.
Velasquez was named board president, Babineaux was named secretary, while Leticia O. Lopez retained her title as board vice president.
The attorney for the school district, Ruben Peña, was terminated and replaced with Baltazar Salazar, the attorney who has represented the four board members as they have fought in court for the ability to hold a meeting.
Board trustees Eduardo “Eddie” Ramirez and Basilio “Bacho” Villarreal — who until Tuesday’s meeting served as the board president and board secretary, respectively — made several attempts to prevent the board members from holding a meeting.
They slapped the four board members with a restraining order that kept them from meeting on April 9.
During a hearing on the restraining order before visiting state District Judge Carlos Valdez on May 17, the two sides reached an agreement on the protocols that needed to be followed to hold a meeting.
The following Monday, the four members tried to post a notice of a meeting to be held Thursday, May 23. When Ramirez, as the board president, and interim Superintendent Roel Gonzalez refused to post the notice, the four went to back to the judge who ordered the board to meet on Thursday.
Ramirez and Villarreal, however, then appealed the order to the Fourth Court of Appeals which stayed the order and prevented the board from meeting on Thursday after all.
From the perspective of the four board members, the stay from the appeals court only applied to the ordered Thursday meeting and did not prevent them from meeting in the future, leading them to schedule Tuesday’s meeting here at Salon Fama, an event center just off of U.S. Highway 83 that used to be home to an eight-liner game room.
The location, in a non-school district facility, was due to the expectation that they would be locked out of district facilities to keep from meeting.
Indeed, a notice on the school district’s official website states that a board meeting should not be held until the Fourth Court of Appeals resolves the issue.
Peña, the attorney whom the four board members voted to terminate Tuesday, said the meeting was illegal and would “absolutely” be challenged, adding that an official challenged will likely be filed in court by the end of the week.
One way that will affect the district is that who exactly will be running it beginning Wednesday will be unclear.
Garza’s three-year term as superintendent officially began on Tuesday, ending on Aug. 31, 2022. However, Peña said that Gonzalez, the interim superintendent, received specific instructions that he should remain in his position leading the school district until a judge orders him to vacate.
Peña argued that the meeting held Tuesday was illegitimate because the four board members allegedly did not follow board policy that requires the board president confer with the superintendent in order to call a meeting. Peña also argued the meeting violated the Texas Open Meetings Act because the board members allegedly did not post notice of the meeting 72 hours in advance as required.
However, Salazar, the attorney that was hired Tuesday, said the agreement reached on May 17 states that a board member can request a special called board meeting and if the board president or superintendent refuse to post notice for that meeting, then any of the board members can post it.
“That’s still a valid order,” Salazar said of the May 17 order. “So where’s the violation?”
Velasquez, the new board president, said he felt confident that any challenge to the legitimacy of the meeting would be unsuccessful.
During his remarks following his appointment as board president, Velasquez said he hoped for peace and stability for the district.
“There’s no Team Hope, there’s no Team Kid’s Choice,” Velasquez said, referring to the political slates the board members ran on. “Right now, there’s only one team and that’s the seven board members that the people elected.”
He went on to acknowledge what each trustee contributed to the board and said he was eager to work hard for the students, the district employees, and the community.
This post has been updated to reflect that Basilio “Bacho” Villarreal was the board secretary.