Bud Kennedy

Crossing color lines, Fort Worth school trustees reject minority leaders. But why?

Fort Worth school trustee Christene Moss, left, fell one vote short of returning as president. T.A. Sims abstained.
Fort Worth school trustee Christene Moss, left, fell one vote short of returning as president. T.A. Sims abstained. Star-Telegram archives

For close to 30 years, registered nurse Christene Moss and retired pharmacist T.A. Sims have represented southeast Fort Worth on the local school board.

For more than 20 of those years, both argued passionately to elect an African-American or Latino trustee as board president.

Those barriers were eventually broken. But when Moss ran for the presidency again this week, with support from two Anglo trustees, Sims dodged voting and she lost.

"Sometimes you feel like you're right back where you started," Moss said Thursday.

In a fascinating game of political crisscross at Tuesday's meeting, first Moss and then Trustee Cinto Ramos were nominated for president but lost by one vote because another minority trustee abstained.

Eventually, the board voted to keep President Tobi Jackson, an Eastern Hills resident and youth agency administrator facing re-election next year in her east side district. She is Anglo.

In the past year, Jackson has faced a series of controversies. The noisiest involves a sixth-grade health lesson that includes transgender and sexual orientation.

But the more serious discussion involved her role in weakening a strong ethics policy and connections between her youth agency and the district's multi-million-dollar tax collection contractor, the Austin-based law firm of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson.

None of the three board votes Tuesday followed the race or color lines of past votes.

Each time, Trustees Ashley Paz and Norm Robbins, both Anglo and backers of a stronger ethics code, supported first Moss and then Ramos to replace Jackson.

After Sims abstained, Moss lost by one vote, 4-4.

Then, Trustee Anael Luebanos abstained and Ramos lost by one vote, 4-4.

Trustees then elected Jackson 5-4, with Trustees Judy Needham and Ann Sutherland joining Luebanos and Sims.

(Luebanos received a $1,500 campaign contribution last year from Linebarger Goggan.)

Sims said Thursday he encouraged keeping Jackson as president because Ramos was president for two years in 2015-2017, "so I felt like it was only fair for her to do two years."

Moss said Thursday she ran for the presidency because "I want to get back to where we include all board members in decisions. The board president is supposed to be just one vote."

Paz, a frequent Jackson critic last year when the ethics code was thinned, said she supported Moss and Ramos because Jackson is "micromanaging" district administrators and overstepping legal boundaries past her role as the moderator for a board of nine trustees.

Electing Moss, already president of the Texas Caucus of Black School Board Members, would have emphasized the district and city's commitment to citywide racial equity, Paz said.

(Moss grew up in the Lake Como neighborhood on the west side but now represents Stop Six.)

"She could have brought us more stability," Paz said.

"We've been in the news a lot for board issues."

Fixing that is now up to Jackson.

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