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Public comment at MCISD meeting sparks conversation

During the Mission CISD board meeting on Feb. 13, a public comment was made by attorney Ricardo Salinas on behalf of Nathan Gower Schwarz in regards to open records requests that had not been met.


According to Salinas, Schwarz put in the requests on Jan. 5 and Jan. 19, but received no response from the district on any of the requests other than “we’ll get you the information as soon as possible.” The lack of communication led to Salinas making the comment during the Feb. 13 meeting.


“The school district has received the request,” Salinas said. “And it’s specific information regarding specific vendors and other documents pertinent to the public. The request has nothing to do with an employee of the school district, it has nothing to with, for example, a superintendent, a teacher, a principal, nothing of that nature.”


Salinas said the request had to do with certain vendors regarding public funds.


“That is an absolute constitutional right for anyone to ask for this information,” Salinas said. “The request has not been honored.”


Salinas said that Schwarz is certified in and taken specific courses on the procedures on how to request documents, and the school had the obligation to return the documents in ten days.    


Prior to his comment, MCISD Board of Trustees President Patty O’Caña-Olivarez spoke about the rules in regards to public comment. Before a comment made at the previous MCISD board meeting on Jan. 24, neither she or anyone on the board made a statement about said guidelines or rules.


“This portion of the meeting is set aside for parents, students, and community members to speak to the board about any matter of interest to them pertaining to the school program,” O’Caña-Olivarez said. “During this part of the meeting, the board will listen, but it will not engage in dialogue or debate with the speaker.”


Salinas spoke for the entire allotted time given for public comments, five minutes, and did not specify which requests he was referring to. As he spoke, and occasionally gestured to the audience in the Bryan Elementary School cafeteria, the board listened.


After his comment, Salinas and four people there with him walked promptly out of the building. The meeting continued.


When asked about the incident in question, O’Caña-Olivarez declined to make a comment. According to her, the MCISD Director of Public Relations and Marketing, Craig Verley, is the person to talk to about this.


Verley said that Schwarz put in six to seven requests, and a few of those requests had to be sent to the Attorney General, which may be part of the reason for the delay.


“He requested a number of things,” Verley said. “Different documents, one involving three bids. Six to seven items were requested. Mission is following all the appropriate procedures according to Texas open records laws.”


Salinas said that the district owed Mission residents an explanation for their lack of transparency, and everyone has the right to be asking questions.


“It went without objection to begin with, and now it’s stalling,” Salinas said. “I have every reason to believe, based on comments made by outside people, that they have discussed it amongst themselves. That there’s at least one or two school board members that know about the requests we are making.”


Salinas brought up the recent renovation of Tom Landry Stadium, and said that according to Schwarz it was an $8 million project. Salinas could not see much difference in the stadium, and wondered who was the person who modified it.


“If Mission truly lives in this aura of transparency, then why is it that there isn’t any?” Salinas said. “It’s like I told them yesterday, put your money where your mouth is.”


Salinas also said that the initial request for information dealt with one specific vendor, “who coincidentally happens to be a school board member out of the Delta area.”


“My client is not saying that these people are doing something wrong,” Salinas said. “But people have the right to ask. People have the right to know. That’s just checks and balances, it helps keep everybody honest.”


“Why is it so difficult to get these documents if there is this transparency?” Salinas said. “As far as I’m concerned, the people that vote for these folks, they’re asleep, asleep at the wheel, so to speak. I think what Mr. Schwarz is trying to do is wake them up. And I’m trying to help him.”


Salinas spoke about the need for more transparent people in the MCISD School Board and Mission City Council, citing a few people, namely his father Mayor Beto Salinas, as still being “transparent” in the city.


“I know that we have good people in Mission still. These folks, I’m begging, they’ve got to wake up. Wake up and make a difference. For God’s sake, because if they don’t who the hell will?”

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