May 5, 2014

Anti-bond group sues Arlington school district over pro-bond rally

Arlington school officials will head to court Tuesday, after a political action committee filed a lawsuit alleging the district is breaking the law to pass its bond package.

Leaders of a political action committee filed suit early Monday against the Arlington school district and its superintendent over a pro-bond issue rally planned for Tuesday at Arlington High School.

The PAC, It’s OK to Vote No, Arlington, says in the suit, first reported by WFAA, that the rally for the $663 million bond package would violate the Texas Election Code.

The bond package is on the ballot in Saturday’s election.

Faith Bussey, campaign coordinator for the PAC, says in an affidavit filed with the suit that she contacted the district and asked them to stop the event after she found out about it on Facebook.

But district officials said they aren’t supporting a political rally and can’t control what the public says on social media.

Bussey’s affidavit says, “I understand this to be a violation of the Texas Election Code, because the district is not allowed to use public funds for political advertising. The Facebook event shows 673 people invited, and 58 confirmed people attending.”

The Facebook event was created by Colts alumna Tara Zang Gray last Wednesday. She posted an online flier stating, “Our town depends on your vote. Join us this Tuesday, May 6, for ‘AHS Colts Vote YES Pep Rally.’ ”

The PAC requested a temporary restraining order to prevent the district from allowing the rally or any other pro-bond events on school property. The district would also be asked to use its police force to make sure no pro-bond events take place on campus.

But Gray appeared to have changed the rally’s focus on her Facebook page Friday.

She posted a memo to the page that read, “Vote Yes! AHS Rally change.” The notice stated: “ We have a new and different challenge and opportunity for VICTORY! Apparently no one was going to show for a “vote no” rally, so they literally threatened legal action against the AISD if we used school property for a Vote Yes! rally. To protect the District and keep our eye on the ball, we’re changing the Rally. Instead of gathering at AHS for food and fun Tuesday, we’re redirecting the enthusiasm of all of you … all the students, all the teachers, and all the parents … to dedicate the week to VOTING.”

Arlington attorney Warren Norred, who represents Bussey and the PAC, said that statement shows the district knew what was going on and was behind it.

“We were told Friday that AISD had reined in all the boosters,” Norred said. “In no way has AISD reined in anything.”

In a hearing on the restraining order before state District Judge David Evans on Monday, Norred said he talked to the district’s chief financial officer, Cindy Powell, several times last week about the pep rally.

“They allowed this to be planned,” Norred told the judge. “All we are asking is that they be proactive to stop it.”

He contends that the “use of district resources, including property, for political purposes is illegal.”

Evans denied the temporary restraining order, stating that the PAC’s attorney hadn’t presented enough information to show the district was behind the rally.

But he gave Norred the option of a two-hour-long evidentiary hearing at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. Bussey will testify at the hearing and try to present evidence that the district violated the election code, Norred said.

Frank Hill, an Arlington lawyer representing the school district, told Evans in court Monday that the PAC was filing suit at the last minute to gain traction in its efforts to kill the bond package.

“It’s not going to happen,” Frank Hill said. “There is not going to be a rally. Indeed, the school district cannot be responsible for the publications of private citizens.”

School district attorney Heather Castillo, Cavazos, chief financial officer Cindy Powell and Michael Hill, assistant superintendent of administration, were present at the Monday hearing.

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