Friday, May 13, 2011

CCR 05-13-11: Teachable Moments?

the Controversial Committee Report

“We don’t raise sacred cows...we just butcher them.”

A mind is a terrible thing to waste close...especially if you are Valerie Jones, president of the IISD board of trustees. And this is what apparently happened when she ventured into the political arena of a city zoning case.

The investigation by the IPD (Case #11-6364) concerning an Open Meetings Act complaint filed against the Irving ISD by the staff of the CCR regarding Kroger’s zoning case on January 13, 2011, will be a moot point. However, before the issue fades into the sunset, the CCR would like to opine as to why there probably wasn’t a formal charge of violating the OMA against the IISD superintendent and/or board members for “polling” on an actionable board item.

A simple answer for the complaint not going forward is: statements by each board member to the IPD sounded almost as if they were sung from a communal hymnal. And any polling tunes sung registered notes so high they could not be heard by untrained ears.

However, the following items were gleaned when reviewing the IPD’s final report on the issue. And kudos to the detective for his having to wade through all the political doublespeak of the superintendent and board members. This task was probably tougher than handling a real crime scene.

For the record, the city’s Heritage District zoning does allow for distance variances regarding the sale of alcohol within the district. The Kroger store is within the Heritage District area. (Additionally, having this variance will be extremely important for the development and success of all businesses within the District!) Kroger was utilizing and requesting only what the council had already established for this area. This was not something new or out of the ordinary for Kroger to request.

A called meeting of the IISD board to re-visit the Kroger zoning case in 2011 was not acceptable to the board president or requested by at least two other board members. And this was a critical point in the actions taken by the IISD board of trustees. The new board (2010-11) did not meet and review a revised Kroger zoning case. And to be sure, the Kroger zoning case had been revised after it was pulled from the council agenda in 2009. In fact, the case even had a new identifying number for zoning purposes.

The CCRs designation -- new IISD board -- refers to the fact that there was one new board member added in 2010 after the IISD’s 2009 resolution of opposition to Kroger’s zoning case.

When board president Valerie Jones was first contacted concerning the OMA investigation, she lawyered up before being interviewed by the investigating detective. Additionally, she stated in her interview with IPD that the zoning case before the council was the same and “hadn’t changed.” This is false! Kroger had changed their site plan, made improvements and created a new landscape design to alter foot traffic into their parking lot and store. While the distance for on-premise beer and wine sales was the same, the overall exterior footprint for the zoning case was remarkably different. The city administration and Zoning Board gave their approval to this new plan. Both bodies previously had disapproved the case, thereby causing Kroger to pull the item in 2009. And this is why Kroger went back to the drawing board to improve their site plan.

The IPD record also reflects that Kroger personnel requested a meeting with the IISD board to show and demonstrate that their revised zoning plan offered a workable footprint for the case. The superintendent e-mailed board members asking if they would meet with Kroger in order that the new site plan could be reviewed and discussed by the school board before a council meeting in January, 2011.

In later phone conversations with board members by the superintendent, he stated that board member’s positions on the zoning case were not polled, interest in reviewing the new zoning case was not perceived, and having a called board meeting was not requested. It’s fair to state that one of Irving’s recognized corporate citizens and important partners with the IISD did not receive a fair hearing or courtesy review of their revised zoning case by the IISD. How, how shameful!

The board president firmly stated that she did not want to meet with Kroger, or have a called meeting of the board to consider a revised board resolution before the January, 2011 council meeting. The rationale she stated was it was “Christmas time” and she didn’t have time for a called meeting. She also stated that she “had no desire to change” her mind. Nothing like a closed mind when dealing with public issues. Was this a teachable moment for all the IISD kids -- never let new facts get in the way of political expediency?

Could another reason the board president did not want to have a called meeting -- to allow the new 2011 board to vote -- be due to the fact that one board member had expressed reservations and was indicating that she was leaning towards favoring the zoning case? Was Jones reluctant to call a meeting because she wanted the board’s position to be unanimous as it was in 2009, since this zoning case was also a family matter for her?

Board member Ronda Huffstetler expressed an interest in changing her mind and leaning toward supporting the Kroger zoning case. She was in favor of re-visiting the zoning case via a called meeting, but did not pursue support from the board president to do this. If her change of heart/vote was that strong, then why didn’t she convince just one board member to do the right thing and request the board president to have a called meeting to review the revised zoning case? (In all probability, a new resolution vote would still have reflected a majority vote in opposition to the revised zoning case.) Instead, Huffstetler found it easier to throw supporters of the Kroger zoning case under the bus by not pressing her case. But then, what should one expect from a member of the IISD rubber stamp squad?

Likewise, board member Gwen Craig was not even a party to the 2009 resolution that was opposed to the Kroger zoning case. Yet, her support of the board’s 2009 resolution was alluded to without the benefit of her actually voting this position in a called meeting. (The board statement to the council in 2011 was: “The Irving ISD Board of Trustees and Administration…” And this illusion to the 2011 board was made based on the boards 2009 board resolution. This statement to the council did not reflect this was the representation of the 2009 board.) The real question was why didn’t Craig give her approval for a called meeting of the board for her to actually register her position? Would this be another teachable moment for IISD kids -- hide your true position on issues behind others?

What does all this mean? Maybe, the board president was psychic and knew that a called meeting might reflect a vote that was not unanimous. Maybe, the board president didn’t want to have a called meeting as a new vote might interfere with her family’s plan for the council’s public hearing. As it is, the board president allowed IISD personnel to state to the council that the board (in essence the entire 2011 board) was against the Kroger zoning case by utilizing their 2009 resolution as a basis. This is entirely misleading and may not have truly represented the 2011 board of trustees’ actual position if a called meeting had been held.

Finally, there was one comment by superintendent Bedden in the IPD’s report that was terribly weak and utilized faulty rationale for the IISD not having a called meeting in 2011 to issue a new resolution in opposition to the zoning case. Bedden basically remarked that: If the Senate approves a bill in one year, then it is still the law the next year...even with new Senators. While this might be true, what if the bill the Senate originally approved is flawed or not accurate with current times and conditions? Does this mean that the Senate should never re-examine, re-visit or alter what has been done in the past? Should new information, details or facts simply be disregarded? We don’t think so. And if this is the type of critical thinking utilized by a highly paid staff member of the IISD, then look for troubling issues to be resolved by inane actions or problematic decisions in the future.

Good government does not exist when elected officials act in a pathetic manner. The Irving ISD board president and other board members seem to be stellar proof of this axiom with their foray into an arena well beyond their council politics.

Can we now have an amen?


The following Executive Session item (A-3) was on the May 16, 2011, IISD’s board meeting agenda: “A matter in which the professional duty of the attorney to the board conflicts with the applicable provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act.”

Staff of the CCR would appreciate any information regarding what was discussed. Did some board members overstep their bounds?

………Mark Holbrook