Trustees walk out, shutdown Rio Grande City CISD board meeting
RIO GRANDE CITY – A contentious Rio Grande City Consolidated Independent School District school board meeting ended abruptly Tuesday night when three board members walked out. It wasn't the first time it happened.
About 50 minutes into Tuesday's meeting, the board started talking about a contract awarded to an attorney to represent the district. It got heated with Trustee Basilio Villarreal Jr. asking multiple times "let me finish." There was a misunderstanding about whether the board agreed to approve the agreement. The district's chief financial officer explained the decision on the contract would stand. After that, Villarreal, Noe Castillo and Eduardo Ramirez left together.
Remaining board members sat dismayed. After a couple of minutes the attorney told them "For lack of a quorum, we can’t do anything anymore. Officially, no." Trustee Daria Babineaux asked, "So, officially can’t close the meeting?" No, answered the attorney.
It's the second time this has happened. The last time was in November 2019. Villarreal told the board he was disappointed with the way a previous meeting was handled, addressed some issues and announced he would be leaving. "There’s other things that I need to do, and I will see you," he said as he got up. Board members Castillo and Ramirez also left with Villarreal but offered no reason. In spite of their departure, the meeting continued because a majority of the members were still present and the board met quorum. This Tuesday, it was different.
Trustee Ramirez did not respond to a request for comment to explain why he left Tuesday's meeting. Castillo sent a message saying he would not comment further than to say "we are here for the students, teachers and staff. All else can be seen in our past meetings."
Villarreal said he believes the opposite faction is railroading them on issues. He did not want to grant an on-camera interview and said, "I’m not going to interview with you, ma’am. I’m a judge. I’d rather not." Reporter Valerie Gonzalez asked, "There are people that you represent and to them it looks like you’re not doing your job that they elected you to do." Villarreal responded, "Well ma’am, you can say that ma’am and I’m going to say opposite to you. We’re doing exactly what we need to do. We’re trying to represent the people there, basically. We went out there and approved everything, the only thing is that we left," and trailed off. However, there were items left on the agenda pending discussion Tuesday evening. When the three board members left, it left the meeting without quorum. They were no longer able to finish going through the agenda which included personnel matters on the executive session.
The attorney representing School Board President Eleazar Velasquez, Jr. sent a statement:
"I do not know why three members of the School Board of Trustees abruptly walked out of an ongoing meeting of the RGCCISD School Board on the evening of February 11, 2020. Regrettably, the balance of the agenda’s school business could not be taken up because the remaining board members could not legally proceed to conduct business in open session after the three board members got up and left the premises. Based on the conduct of the trustees that unexpectedly left the premises, it was clearly demonstrated that the departing trustees had no objective intention to return to the meeting or to conduct the remainder of the meeting and address the unfinished agenda business of the School District. The meeting was abruptly and unexpectedly concluded."
The school district also sent a statement:
"The responsibility of RGCCISD Superintendent of schools and Administration is to present items before the school board of trustees for initiatives that are in the best interest of the students and the district. Thereafter, we move forward with the items approved by the board of trustees and implement those initiatives to better serve our district. The media inquiry concerns the matter of attendance or lack thereof at open meetings by Rio Grande City CISD School Board of Trustees. The subject of a response to attendance is deferred to and more appropriately addressed by the School Board President, Mr. Eleazar Velasquez, Jr.”
Villarreal said he hasn't been the only board member to leave a board meeting before it ended. He said Babineaux also did this in the past. Babineaux, a local physician, confirmed it happened when she was called to a clinic emergency and left but the quorum was not disrupted and that meeting continued.
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