For weeks at the end of 2008, Dallas Independent School District trustee Carla Ranger insisted the DISD board of trustees' decision to extend its term limits from three to four years was illegal. She posted to her blog items in which she wrote that the decision to do so "was a reflection of the current willingness of the Dallas ISD Board to use ruthless politics to preserve its power," and that the board was looking to "willfully violate the clear restriction placed on extending Trustee terms of office from three to four years." Which is why, in early December 2008, Ranger asked Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott to request an opinion from the Texas Attorney General's Office regarding "the legality of the Dallas ISD Board's extending Board terms to four years and canceling the May, 2009 Trustee election."
Today, the Texas Attorney General's Office finally made its decision. The letter to Scott follows in full after the jump, but all you need to know you will find in the final line of the opinion, which the AG's office also forwarded to Unfair Park. It reads, quite simply, "We conclude that the DISD board of trustees was not authorized to change the length of its members' terms of office after December 31, 2007."
The AG's office does not comment on its opinions. Unfair Park has left messages for DISD board president Jack Lowe at both his office and his home, and sent the missive to district spokesman Jon Dahlander to find out what the ramifications of today's opinion are moving forward. (Update: Dahlander says, "This is and has always been an issue of the board of trustees -- not the school district itself.") I've also called trustee Edwin Flores, and I will update accordingly.
Update at 5:15 p.m.: Flores -- who reminds that he's the sole attorney on the DISD board of trustees -- called back and said he had not yet seen the opinion. But when informed of its contents, he said, at first, "Bummer." Then, he offered a longer response. It follows after the jump.
Flores would have been one of the three trustees up for re-election in May, had the board not voted in November to add on the extra year. And, he says, if the AG's opinion means "I have to stand for election" sooner than next year, "that's fine. I think I have a fairly OK record."
As for what the opinion actually means, well, Flores says he's not quite sure yet.
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"That is a really good question," he says. "I'd heard rumors for the last three months they were going to come out against us, and as the lawyer in the group I asked, 'What happens?' They don't give us any guidance. Do we call a special election? It takes a while to get these rolled up. We can't do it by May 9. Do we have to call a special election? Would it be in November? They're horrifically expensive. Last time we did three trustees during a regular election cycle, we had to pay $750,000 to Dallas County Elections. And this was a good year to save.
"Also, we had Justice Department pre-clearance, which means someone would have to sue us and go back to Justice and say, 'You were wrong.' An AG's opinion is not the law. The statute is the law. I read our briefs, and two sets of lawyers said that under the current statute, we were permitted to do this, so I guess we'll go back to counsel and say, 'What do we do?'"