Former board member sues RISD alleging ‘secret meetings’

A lawsuit filed Friday in Texas state court against Richardson ISD and its seven trustees by former RISD trustee David Tyson, Jr. alleges the board’s more than 500 unanimous votes over the past 7 years have not been the result of like-minded agreement or of consensus reached during public school board meeting discussions but instead part of an “unlawful plan” to conduct secret meetings in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA). The “substantive deliberations” were done via “private ‘mini-sessions’ of two or three trustees, known as “walking” quorums, with “specific intent to evade the requirements of TOMA.” Attendees allegedly corresponded with non-attending trustees by text, email or voicemail until consensus was reached, and — in action Tyson refers to as “brazen” — would “intentionally delete and purge the electronic communications,” leaving any public record “purposefully concealed and forever lost.”

Subsequent public board meetings were merely a “rubber-stamp formality,” Tyson alleges. “Votes that appear swift and uncontested” were in truth “choreographed behind the scenes.”

In the past 7 years, only three school board votes have been less-than-unanimous. In June Eron Linn voted against the proposed tax ratification election and the budget (he favored a gentler increase in property taxes), and in 2015 Justin Bono voted no to the proposed non-traditional high school.

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In his lawsuit, Tyson does not indicate whether he engaged in such practices during his 6-year tenure on the board. Tyson was elected in 2004 and remains the only African-American and the only minority ever to serve as a trustee. In January of 2018, he filed suit against RISD alleging RISD’s at-large system of electing trustees violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because it denies fair representation to minority voters. That case is still pending.

The fundamental tenet of TOMA is that meetings of a governmental body must be open to the public, and Tyson says RISD’s secret sessions “have denied the public the opportunity to participate in the democratic process.”

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Tyson’s lawsuit was filed by Brewer Storefront, the same firm which filed his Voting Rights case and prevailed in Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Irving ISD, the City of Farmers Branch and the City of Irving. Brewer asks the court to stop RISD from skirting TOMA and void all actions based on violations.

School Board President Justin Bono, a Lake Highlands resident, said it was too early to comment on the allegations when contacted Monday morning.

“This suit has initially been filed with media outlets but has not yet been served on the district,” Bono told me. “As we have not seen the suit, we cannot comment at this point.”

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