Board members say they represent Bexar County, not their districts.
By Zachary-Taylor Wright
Board members defended the district’s plan to conduct interviews for the District 9 vacancy in closed session, saying the board wants to protect the candidates from liability associated with personal statements.
In an interview Oct. 23, District 6 trustee Gene Sprague said the board is looking for an interim trustee committed to student success policies for all the colleges as an agenda, rather than any political agenda.
He said the interview will be in closed session because it falls under personnel, and the board does not want to jeopardize any of the candidates’ reputations.
However, the trustees are not employees of the district; they are elected public officials.
Interviews will be Nov. 7, board Chair Yvonne Katz, District 7 trustee, said.
District general counsel Ross Laughead said the board would call a special board meeting to interview trustee candidates and to appoint an interim District 9 trustee.
He said the interviews will probably be conducted in closed session, but the appointment must be in open session.
District 9 is one of three districts that encompass Northeast Bexar County. Two of the five Alamo Colleges, Northeast Lakeview College and this college, are in District 9. The other two districts in the northeastern part of Bexar County are Districts 8 and 2.
When asked how the public’s right to know where the candidates stand on issues would be satisfied, Sprague said he was sure the appointed trustee would be glad to answer questions.
He said the board does not conduct the interviews in public to avoid the candidates’ accountability for personal statements made in the process.
In an interview Oct. 25, District 1 trustee Joe Alderete said he was not aware the interviews would be in closed session, comparing the District 9 trustee appointment to the appointment of a student trustee.
In an interview Oct. 24, District 8 trustee Clint Kingsbery said, although the student trustee interviews were public, the District 9 interviews will be in closed session for the privacy of the “adults.”
Kingsbery said the board will come out of closed session and discuss the interviews before appointing the interim trustee.
He said the public discussions aren’t typically “super thorough,” but board members may discuss their preferred candidate.
However, Kingsbery said the board doesn’t usually say anything because they want to keep their vote “close to their heart.”
When asked if a person running for public office should be prepared for public interviews and discussions to represent constituents of District 9, Sprague drew a comparison to faculty interviews, saying this practice was not a means to avoid public scrutiny but to be fair and confidential in the interview process.
In an interview Oct. 24, Kingsbery said any person interested in the trustee position can make a public statement of their own.
Kingsbery suggested The Ranger file an information request for the applications.
The Ranger asked board liaison Sandra Mora for all applications submitted. She said to submit a public information request to public relations.
The Ranger submitted a public information request for all candidate submissions Oct. 19.
When asked if the weight of responsibility of District 9, housing two of the five Alamo Colleges, warrants transparency in the process, Sprague said the process is transparent because the board publicly advertised for the position.
Sprague could not say how else the process is transparent.
During his retirement announcement at the Oct. 23 board meeting, Chancellor Bruce Leslie applauded the district’s integrity, saying “Everything is transparent. Anytime anybody wants information about anything, it’s right there in front of us. There’s never been hiding anything here.”
Sprague said the board develops the same questions for all candidates but did not have any questions developed yet because the board is unsure how many candidates there will be.
He said the board asks questions about how the candidate would act as a trustee, saying a candidate wishing to control faculty would not work.
When asked how having eight trustees representing districts with different colleges, demographics and needs from District 9 can adequately determine the best candidate to fill the demands of District 9 constituents, Sprague said the trustees do not act as representatives from single districts.
“I operate on the basis that I’m a trustee for the (whole) district,” Sprague said. “I don’t represent one college. I represent District 6, but that doesn’t mean I only care what happens in District 6.”
Meriam Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines “constituency” as “all the people, especially voters, served by a particular elected official, especially a legislator.”
Each trustee is elected by constituents in the district they represent.
Sprague said he doesn’t have a “stronger responsibility” to District 6 because everyone benefits by his representation of all Bexar County.
In an interview Oct. 25, Alderete said board members are responsible for the service area that they are aligned with as a whole.
He said board members are elected officials by independent districts, but they cast a vote for all of Bexar County and the district’s service areas, such as New Braunfels and Kerrville.
Alderete said the board cannot make decisions based on which colleges are in their district because he doesn’t have a college in his district.
“When I advocate, I advocate for the entire service area,” Alderete said. “I am voted on by a district to represent. I represent the whole county. I vote on behalf of the whole county, and I am voted on by a sector.”
In comparison to his experience on San Antonio’s City Council, Alderete said the council is oriented around district representation. He said City Council discusses improvements, such as libraries, parks and schools, that council members would want in their district.
Kingsbery said board members do not represent their districts, but they represent all of Bexar County. He said he believes constituents believe the board will do a good job representing them during the appointment and interview process.
In an Oct. 25 interview, Alderete said constituents in District 9 can ensure the best candidate will be selected to fill the vacant position because “there are eight other board members looking for similar values and experiences that they themselves have.”
“I don’t know how many District 9 residents will be watching it anyway on TV,” Alderete said laughing.
Kingsbery said District 9 represents one-ninth of the board and the other eight parts represent enough of the District 9 demographic to make a responsible appointment.
Alderete said the board opted to appoint an interim trustee because a special election would require money be spent for District 9, and the trustee would need to run again in May, saying it is “only a temporary position.”
According to Texas Education Code 130.001, a trustee filling a vacancy by special election would remain in office until the end of the vacated term, which in the case of District 9 is 2020.
Kingsbery said appointing an interim trustee, rather than holding a special election, makes sense considering the proximity of the next board election in May. He said if the election was further away, he might have a different opinion.
Kingsbery said anybody in District 9 could “put their hat in the ring.”
He is unaware of any board members having a preferred candidate; he said this was unlike the trustee appointment in 2015, saying District 4 trustee Marcello Casillas, who had occupied the district seat once before, was the obvious favorite, and the appointment process wasn’t really a competition.