For the second time in just over one year, the Robstown Independent School District Board of Trustees has tried - and failed - to remove attorney John Bell as the general counsel for the district.
In a meeting of the board of trustees held March 30, Board Secretary Osvaldo Romero introduced a motion that would have designated Bell as "Special Counsel" to the district, to work only on limited matters decided by the board.
In discussion about his motion, Romero said although Bell has represented the district for 17 years, there has been confusion for some time as to whether he has any kind of contract with the district.
Superintendent Alfonso Obregon said the district has reviewed its records and cannot find a written contract designating Bell as general counsel. When asked to provide any contract he might have on file, Obregon said Bell sent a letter to the district stating the designation had been made verbally, and was reflected by his years of service with the district
"I had a discussion with him in January and a few weeks ago asking that if he has something out there that he can produce to show that he is general counsel for the district, to give it to us," Obregon said. "And that's the letter we received.
"There appears to be some kind of relationship, because there's been some work done for the district, and from August to December there was communication with board members sitting on this board on different issues. He charged for those services and was paid. So, to answer your question, this board has continued to have a working relationship with him."
Bell is representing the district in its ongoing legal matters with suspended head baseball coach Steve Castro, and Romero said he would prefer Bell's work be limited to just that issue.
"We're not going to say we're going to fire John Bell, simply because there is pending litigation," Romero said. "But we want to be absolutely sure, at least on my partů that I don't believe he is our general counsel."
In December 2008, then Board President Adolfo Lopez asked that a request for proposals be posted so the district could consider applications for hiring a new attorney. The request for proposals was posted, but Bell was the only attorney to submit a proposal within the allotted timeframe. The board declined to accept Bell's proposal, but has continued to use his services since that time.
Last week, Lopez joined board member Eva Orona in vocally supporting Bell.
"Never was any action taken by the board then to terminate his services," Lopez said. "What bothers me is how all this has been unveiled. This is how everything went down, and it's very obvious. "
Lopez referred to the next item on the agenda, which was to designate Mark Anthony Sanchez as general counsel for the district. Lopez said he was concerned because Sanchez had been hired as special counsel in January to give legal guidance on extending board members' terms, after Bell had provided an opinion against the issue.
"So the whole circle is we didn't agree with the opinion that John Bell gave us, so we hired somebody as special counsel, and now we want to make them general counsel and turn around and make John Bell special counsel. All we're doing is playing games. That's what bothers me," Lopez said. "Why are we so focused on this? We talk about it every day. We criticize everybody. The newspaper is there all the time. We've got problems with our TAKS scores for our students, and yet for the last three or four months that's all we talk about - legal counsel and special election. Why? Because we're worried about ourselves. We're not worried about the students."
"All I've heard are long winded speeches about me not doing anything for the kids. I disagree with you, I think we're moving in a very positive direction, even if we disagree with each other." Romero said.
Speaking to Orona, Romero said the issue was only on the agenda because of concerns she and Lopez had regarding the use of Sanchez's services.
"The only reason we are considering this is because of your demand, and Mr. Lopez's demand, that in effect we fire John Bell. You've made that very clear," Romero said. "We're saying that we are not going to fire John Bell, but he is not our general counsel. And if this action is what is required to bring that point across to you and Mr. Lopez, then that is what we're going to do."
"There is no intent of mine to say that we want to fire John Bell. That is coming from you presenting these type of agenda items on here. You seem to have a misunderstanding about John Bell being our legal counsel," Orona said.
"He's not our legal counsel," Romero replied.
"Well, you seem to be the only one, sir," Orona said.
Board member Ernest Gallegos, who voted in favor of hiring Sanchez as special legal counsel earlier this year, asked to table the issue so the board could get more information about Bell's status with the district.
"I did vote (for Sanchez), and I was hoping to build up a relationship with them. But I think we need to build up a relationship with them before I vote on something else." Gallegos said.
His request was denied.
Following 45 minutes of discussion, the vote to appoint Bell as special counsel failed in a 3-3 tie, with Romero, Robert Tapia and Pablo Avila voting in favor and Orona, Lopez and Gallegos voting against. Board member Richard Gonzalez was not in attendance.
The following agenda item to appoint Sanchez as general counsel was tabled.
Bell was not in attendance at the March 30 meeting.