Friday, January 11 2013, 09:51 AM CST
BISD board reviews voting plans
BEAUMONT - By Megan Dillard - Beaumont school board elections are coming up in May, but before people can vote on who will represent their district.
BISD must first decide how those districts are mapped out.
The board held a special meeting tonight.
BISD is currently on a seven single-member district plan, which means voters in each district elect a person to represent the area in which they live.
Last May, voters petitioned the board to adopt a five-two plan, meaning the district would have five single member districts and two at large seats. Even though enough voters requested it, the Department of Justice refused last week to pre-clear the five-two plan.
The Justice Department says the change would dilute minority voting strength.
BISD attorney Melody Chappell addressed the board during tonight's meeting.
She explained the options following the Justice Department's ruling.
"The school board can vote to confer with the Department of Justice, which they did. They've authorized me to do that. They can ask for reconsideration of the objection, or they can file for declaratory judgement in Washington DC with the district court. The next meeting is Thursday so we can get something in place that we can guarantee that there will be an election in May, regardless of whether it's a 5-2 or 7-0."
The board voted for Chappell to have a conference call with the Justice Department to find out more on why the group did not support the five-two ruling.
Zenobia Bush is one of the board members who voted for the discussions with the Justice Department, but she says continuing on with this issue is beating a dead horse.
She also says continued focus on changing the voting plan is a waste of time and money.
"The Department of Justice has ruled. I think the community needs to accept that ruling and move on. We read in the report how it was such a divisive issue for the community to start with, trying to go from a 7-0 to a 5-2. Now that the decision has been made, I think that the community needs to accept that opinion because the role of the Department of Justice is to make sure the citizens' rights are protected."
Board member Mike Neil is one of the driving forces behind the change to a five-two plan.
He believes drawing new maps to include two at-large seats would more accurately reflect the changes desired by the more than 11,000 people who signed the petition.
"They're wanting it to be a dead horse because they never wanted the horse to begin with. The horse is not dead. They've been shooting at the horse for 18 months, but we're not beating a dead horse because it's a live issue and will continue to be a live issue. The people spoke, we worked hard to get it done. If I thought it was something that would hurt the minority, I wouldn't be involved in it. It's not even about that."
The board's monthly meeting is scheduled for next Thursday.
Attorney Melody Chappell promised to schedule the call with the Justice Department and keep the board informed.
BISD trustee Tom Neild asked the board to consider recording the call with the Department of Justice or allowing the board to sit in on the meeting.
The board voted down the motion, 5-2.
Tom Neild and Mike Neil were the only two in favor.
Neild says this is an example of the board's "lack of transparency" and "hidden agenda."