DID THE SCHOOL DISTRICT IMPROPERLY DENY THE APPLICATIONS FOR CANDIDACY FOR THE SCHOOL BOARD ELECTION?
Case citation: In re Rodriguez, __ S.W.3d __, 2013 WL 1189005 (Tex. App. – Beaumont 2013).
Summary: Marcelino Rodriguez, Donna Jean Forgas, and Linda Marie Wiltz Gilmore filed applications for positions on the ballot for the Beaumont Independent School District Board of Trustees. At the time, the district had undergone redistricting and sought approval from the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), but the DOJ had objected to the district’s redistricting plan. The district ultimately denied the three candidate applications, and Rodriguez, Forgas, and Gilmore filed suit seeking to compel the district to place their names on the ballot.
In their suit, Rodriguez, Forgas, and Gilmore argued that by operation of § 11.052 of the Texas Education Code, all seven positions on the Board should have been filled in the May 2013 election; consequently, they claimed that the district had a mandatory duty to accept their applications and cause their names to appear on the ballot for the May 2013 election.
Ruling: The appeals court held that state law required the district to fill all trustee positions in the election and the district should have accepted the applications for those positions that were timely filed. Under Education Code § 11.052(h), “At the first election at which some or all of the trustees are elected in a manner authorized by this section and after each redistricting, all positions on the board shall be filled.”
It was undisputed that the 2010 federal census required the board to redistrict. The Board timely adopted a redistricting plan on February 21, 2013, but an objection by the Department of Justice prevented the initial redistricting. The Board anticipated completing the redistricting process for the May 2013 election and entered into an election services agreement for a joint election with the City of Beaumont for May 2013.
The record showed that on December 27, 2012, the district issued a notice of deadline to file applications for a position on the board’s regular election ballot for May 2013. Without specifying the positions open, the notice set a filing period from January 30, 2013, through March 1, 2013. Before expiration of this deadline, Rodriguez, Forgas, and Gilmore presented their applications for positions on the ballot for BISD districts one, two, and three. On March 4, 2013, they were notified that their applications had been rejected because they had each filed an application for an office that was not scheduled to be on the ballot. No other basis for the rejection was stated, and the district made no argument that the applications could be rejected for any other reason. The ultimate issue in this case was whether the Board could properly reject those applications at a time when the Board planned to hold an election after redistricting.
When the Board provided notice of the election and set a filing period for candidates to apply, the Board planned to complete redistricting before the election. Without specifying the positions open, the December 27, 2012 notice provided a filing deadline for applicants. Given a May election, at the time the three applicants each filed for a position on the ballot, Education Code § 11.052(h) required all trustee positions to be filled by the election. Because the 2010 Census required redistricting, the appeals court granted the district equitable relief from statutory deadlines related to the election set out in the Election Code and the Education Code. The appeals court, thus, held that the election scheduled for May 11, 2013, was to be conducted using the redistricting map adopted by the Board February 21, 2013.
For purposes of § 11.052(h), redistricting triggered the necessity to fill all positions on the Board in the May election. Rodriguez, Forgas, and Gilmore timely filed applications to be on the ballot within the filing period set out in the December 27, 2012 notice of election. The appeals court held that the election scheduled for May 11, 2013, was to be conducted using the redistricting map adopted February 21, 2013. The appeals court also ordered the district to accept the three applications and to place their names on the ballot, or to otherwise certify the election of unopposed candidates to the extent authorized by the Election Code and the Education Code.
CAN A SCHOOL BOARD APPOINT A SINGLE-MEMBER DISTRICT TRUSTEE TO AN AT-LARGE POSITION?
Case citation: Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. GA-0996 (2013).
Summary: The Chair of the Committee on Business and Industry for the Texas House of Representatives recently asked the Attorney General whether a school district board of trustees may appoint a single-member district trustee to an at-large position as the district transitions to a new election scheme. The opinion request resulted from an election in Beaumont Independent School District. The district’s voters voted to change the district’s trustee election scheme from seven single-member districts to five single-member districts and two at-large positions. The transition was to go into effect for the May 2013 election. Under a proposed transition plan, the district’s board would appoint one of its current single-member district trustees, whose term was set to expire May 2015, to one of the new at-large positions that would expire in May 2017. Thus, the question arose whether a board may make such an appointment to a new at-large position that the board planned to fill in the same year.
Ruling: The Attorney General held that the Election Code does not permit a board to appoint one of its current single-member district trustees, whose term will expire in May 2015, to a new at-large position set to expire in May of 2017. Under Election Code § 11.053, when a district adopts a transition plan, the new trustee positions “shall be filled as the staggered terms of trustees then in office expire.” The Attorney General noted that the term “shall” is generally recognized as creating a mandatory duty or obligation.
Looking to the plain language of the statute, the Attorney General held that the Beaumont ISD’s plan to appoint a current trustee, whose term expires in 2015, to a new at-large position that begins in 2013 “contravenes the Legislature’s clear instructions under § 11.053 to fill positions as they expire.” Instead, § 11.053 requires the Board to fill the new at-large position when a current trustee’s term expires in either 2013 or 2015. Thus, the board may not appoint one of the current single-member district trustees to a new at-large position that will expire in May of 2017.