Last April 10, 2014 in “School Board Members Intend to Resign December 31 to Avoid Financial Disclosure” I reported to you that Jo Anne Bernal, on behalf of the County of El Paso, asked the Texas Attorney General whether if school board trustees resigned would they still be subject to filing their financial disclosure forms. According to the County Attorney, “rather than be subjected to public disclosure, some trustees intend to resign on or before” the end of the year.
Ten days later, Andrew J. Polk of KVIA reported the same information, of course ignoring the fact that I had broken the story first although it is likely KVIA got the information from my blog. Regardless, KVIA quoted Veronica Escobar as stating that the disclosure forms were needed to resolve loss of trust in the school districts due to public corruption.
The law, HB343, which goes into effect on January 2015, requires that school trustees in El Paso County file financial disclosure forms. The law only affects El Paso County school districts and was sponsored by Marisa Marquez. Although some trustees were rumored to be contemplating resigning in order to avoid compliance, to date many have stated they would serve out their terms and file their disclosures.
Regardless of their actions, on Tuesday, the Texas Attorney General issued an opinion on Bernal’s request. According to the opinion, the law states that although a trustee may resign effective at the end of the year to avoid disclosing their financials, the law sees them as a holdover until a new trustee is seated. Because of this, any trustee resigning before January 1 with the seat remaining vacant on January 1 would still be required to file a financial disclosure form.
This is because the Texas Ethics Commission has ruled that required financial disclosure forms automatically are required when an official occupies a position on January 1 of that year. Therefore, if the resigned seat remains vacant, the trustee who resigned is considered a holdover and therefore is required to file their report.
According to a KFOX-TV report earlier this year, Ysleta Independent School District spent about $7,500 in legal fees trying to kill the bill requiring disclosure. The KFOX-TV report added that one of the legal question posed to the district’s lawyers was when was the latest date a trustee could resign in order to avoid filing the required disclosures.
As many of you know, although many feel that public corruptions has abated because of the high-profile public corruptions cases that seem to have concluded, there are still many questions in the community about perceived ongoing public corruption. Why a school district would be allowed to spend money fighting transparency is beyond me. More importantly, the question that is of upmost importance is why a school trustee would contemplate resigning to avoid financial disclosure requirements if not for nefarious purposes.
Fortunately for us, it is likely that we will see the majority, if not all, of the financial disclosures for the current slate of school trustees because the Texas Attorney General has opined that it will be difficult for them to avoid the disclosures. The only bad thing about the law is that it sunsets in 2019, thus it has a limited shelf life. In the meantime, it furthers the community’s need for government transparency.
You can read the Texas Attorney General Opinion here.