(During the diatribe that Brownsville Independent School District legal counsel Baltazar Salazar levied against trustee Lucy Longoria at Tuesday's meeting, he asserted that she had not right to contact the Texas Education Agency (TEA) without going through the administration or through him and "following protocol." He further charged that she was unprofessional and "sabotaging" ongoing litigation. Longoria countered that board members across the state call the TEA's Governance Division for guidance and direction on issues facing their districts and told Baltazar "You are a liar," and said he lacked education law experience. Longoria, with 23 years of district administrative experience, and fellow trustee Catalina Presas-Garcia, did not vote for Baltazar. Below are the reasons why.)
By Juan Montoya
Even the most ardent defenders of the Brownsville Independent School District's new board majority winced when they (Otis Powers, Enrique Escobedo, Hector Chirinos and Minerva Peña) move to replace the district's legal counsel at their last meeting without so much as a workshop to compare firms, or even a ranking of the firms that submitted their answers to the Request for Qualifications (RFQ).
Without much discussion, the majority, in the blink of an eye, chose to terminate its contract with Thompson and Horton, L.L.P. and gave the firm a thirty (30) day grace period of transition.
Then they opted to hire Baltazar Salazar, the Houston attorney who defended the BISD way back when during the time that the controversy over the mold problem at Besteiro and Aiken elementary schools erupted.
No wonder Salazar addressed the board in such familiar terms. "I have been in touch with some of you before," he said at the meeting. "I know some of you personally. I grew up with some of you."
But if that was a faux pas on his part, of the eight law firms which submitted a reply for the Request For Qualifications to the district, Salazar and his firm firm failed to provide their qualifications for 17 of the 51 categories of basic legal services listed by the district. For example, they "Did Not Disclose" their qualifications on:
1. Competitive bidding
2. Copyright Issues
3. Election Law advice
4. Employee Health Insurance Matters
5. Federal Voters Right Advice
6. Fiber Optic Communications System
7. Freedom of Religion Issues
8. Governmental Tort Claims
9. Intergovernmental Agreements
10. Intergovernmental Relations
11. Liability for Asbestos
12. Preventive Law
13. Public Utility Commission
14. State Whistle Blower Act Compliance
15. Texas Teacher Retirement System
16. University Interscholastic League
17. Utility Law Regulation
We should note that three of the other firms "Did Not Disclose" more categories than Salazar.
1. Flores and Torres, of Edinburg (20),
2. Gustavo Acevedo, of Pharr (29), and
3. Jaime J. Muñoz, San Juan (42).
4. Rogers, Morris and Grover, Houston (17), did not list the same number as Salazar.
This is where the board majority's criteria gets perplexing. Three other firms listed less categories under "Did Not Disclose." They were
1. Thompson and Horton (9), of Houston,
2. the current legal counsel, O'Hanlon, McCollum and Demerath (0), Austin, and
3. Thornton, Biechlin, Segrato, Reynolds and Guerra (0), of Austin.
In other words, there were four other firms that had the same or less "Did Not Disclose" responses to the 51 basic legal categories and the board majority chose Salazar.
Could it have been some other factor that led Powers, Escobedo, Peña and Chirinos to opt for the mediocre firm which is lacking in such important qualifications?
Of the eight firms, Salazar came in sixth in terms of years of public education experience.
Other firms such as O'Hanlon, McCullom and Demerath listed 75 years, Thornton, Biechlin, Segrato, Reynolds and Guerra listed 40 years, Gustavo Acevedo listed 45 years, Rogers, Morris and Grover listed 20 years, etc...
But the kicker here is that in the category of school districts represented by the differing firms, Salazar ranked seventh of the eight with only 3 years.
At the top of the list was O'Hanlon, McCollum and Demerath with 102 districts, Thompson and Horton with 90 school districts, Rogers, Morris and Grover with 51 school districts, Thornton, Biechlin, Segrato, Reynolds and Guerra with 15 school districts, etc...
Clearly, the two firms that would have scored better on a ranking of the district by basic legal services provision ( of 51 listed as required by BISD), number of years in public education experience, and school district represented would have been O'Hanlon, McCullom and Demerath.
They had all 51 categories provided, 75 years of public education service, and 102 school district represented followed by Thornton, Biechlin, Segrato, Reynolds and Guerra, with all 51 categories provided, 40 years of public education experience and 15 school district represented, and Rogers, Morris and Grover with 34 categories of services provided, 20 years in public educations services and 51 school districts represented.
Compare this with Salazar's 43 categories provided, 18 years of public education services and three school district's represented.
And want to know some more? Why did this majority choose the mediocre firm when they knew that O'Hanlon, McCullom and Demerath has among its clients the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Association of School Boards?
"What's going to happen is that Salazar will be referring BISD cases to other law firms because the firm doesn't have the qualifications to handle it in-house," said BISD administrator. "Why was this board in such a rush to hire this firm? And why didn't the administration provide the board members with a ranking of the firms by services provided, years of experience and number of school districts served?"
Voting against hiring Salazar were trustees Catalina Presas-Garcia and Lucy Longoria.