In a special meeting on Friday night, the board of San Antonio ISD voted to fill the District 6 Trustee seat vacated by Olga Hernandez by special appointment. The appointee will serve the remainder of Hernandez’s four-year term until May 2019.
Applications for the position will open on Feb. 28 and close March 10. The application, and possible changes to the filing period will be available on the district website next week.
Board President Patti Radle and District 1 Trustee Steve Lecholop voted “no” to the motion. Both voted in favor of calling for a special election. District 3 Trustee Debra Guerrero originally voted for the special election as well, but changed her vote to call for the appointment after the first vote ended in a tie.
All board members expressed confidence in either process.
“Any decision we make is marginally better than the other,” Lecholop said, “We’re going to get this right.”
The board also formally accepted Hernandez’s resignation at the special meeting.
Hernandez resigned her seat on the board in the wake of her arrest in a federal bribery investigation. The 11-year board veteran is accused of accepting gifts from an insurance broker in exchange for advantage in competition in district contracts.
The special meeting was called promptly after Hernadez’s resignation in order to get the race on the May 6 ballot, if the board had voted for the special election. Statue dictates that elections must be called 70 days out, which in this case is Feb. 25. A stand-alone special election would have been cost prohibitive.
While Lecholop, Radle, and Guerrero made the argument that the community should be able to elect their representation, other board members felt that the seat should be filled expediently to prevent any lapse in representation for the citizens of District 6.
Leaving the seat unfilled would be unfair to the citizens of the district, said District 7 Trustee Ed Garza. Currently the board is in the process of assembling a citizens advisory committee for the implementation of the $450 million bond passed in November. Selecting the district’s representation on that committee should be done by someone from the community, Garza argued. Garza, who served as mayor of San Antonio from 2001-2005, said that the school board trustee was the most important position in which he has served, largely because of the immediate effects that the trustees have on those they represent.
While two months was deemed too long to leave the district without representation, it was also not enough time to hold a fair election, District 2 Trustee James Howard said.
“I think a special election would put (District 6) at risk,” Howard said. “I think we would do that district justice making an appointment.”
The appointment process does not eliminate campaigning entirely. In the days leading up to the meeting members of the board have received emails, calls, and messages campaigning for appointments.
Even as Hernandez read her resignation letter during the Feb. 21 regular board meeting, she advocated for the appointment of “someone who is a lifelong or lifetime resident of District 6.”
During the citizens to be heard portion of the Feb. 21 meeting, community members from District 6 responded to rumors that Scott Meltzer, the close runner-up for the District 6 seat in 2015, would be appointed.
“He lost because the people of District 6 did not feel that he could represent us,” Blanca Duran said.
Meltzer, David Soto, and Jody Bayless ran against Hernandez in 2015. Hernandez, 65, beat Meltzer, 29, by less than 150 votes. The narrow margin led some on social media to call for the appointment of Meltzer, who moved to the district in 2013.
Meanwhile on social media others spoke out in favor of Meltzer’s appointment, saying he deserved the position. Meltzer is currently leading Tech Bloc’s fundraising efforts for the new CAST Tech High School and serving on the campus leadership team for JT Brackenridge Elementary School.
Based on the communication they have already received, the board expects the number of applicants to grow significantly, along with intensified input from the community.
“I read it as a lot of passion out there,” Radle said.
The board had the option to make the appointment Friday night during the special meeting. However, they elected to follow the application process.
“There are several people out there vying for this position. I would like to see and hear from them individually as to what they are proposing,” District 4 Trustee Art Valdez said.