McAllen Independent School District trustees named attorney and former school board trustee John Ball the district’s first staff attorney Monday after learning last month that the district’s general counsel intended to change its billing structure.
Ball served on the board for four years, choosing not to run for reelection in 2017.
He practices law in McAllen.
The board picked him out of a pool of five attorneys it interviewed.
Board President Debbie Crane Aliseda described Ball as a quality choice.
“John Ball’s selection as our in-house MISD attorney is a testament to his exceptional qualifications,” she said via text. “With his double board certification in criminal and family law, coupled with his invaluable experience as a former MISD Trustee, we are confident in his ability to navigate the complexities of legal matters and uphold the highest standards of transparency and accountability in our district.”
Attempts to reach Ball for comment were unsuccessful.
In-house legal counsel isn’t a very common practice for Texas school districts, but it’s not unheard of.
When McAllen trustees first considered hiring an in-house lawyer at the recommendation of then-superintendent J.A. Gonzalez last year, the district said there were 32 school districts in the state with an attorney in-house, only one of which was in the Rio Grande Valley.
The idea lacked board support. Some trustees criticized the proposal’s cost while others argued the timing was off — the board was in the process of soliciting bids for its general legal counsel.
That process ultimately resulted in the board selecting Walsh Gallegos Treviño Kyle & Robinson to replace Atlas Hall & Rodriguez, the district’s longtime general counsel, after some bouts of board disagreement last summer.
According to the district, Atlas charged the district a $230,000 flat annual fee.
The board inked a contract with Walsh to receive legal counsel for a flat annual fee of $174,996 plus expenses. The district also spent about $16,500 with the firm in trainings during the first contract year not covered under that fee.
In August, however, the board learned that Walsh had decided to renegotiate its fee, which it was allowed to do under its contract. The firm provided the district with an hourly fee schedule.
“They realized that the district utilizes them for more hours than, I guess, than they realized,” Assistant Superintendent for District Operations Alejandra Gonzalez told trustees.
Based on itemized reports from Walsh covering eight months from its first contract year, the district would have spent a little under $176,000 with the firm under the new hourly fee structure.
The firm did not, however, provide the district with itemized reports for the other four months of the year.
Gonzalez told trustees she wasn’t sure why those months weren’t itemized but noted that other single months from the contract’s first year would have cost the district upwards of $40,000 under the new rates.
The board signaled support for replacing Walsh with in-house counsel at a workshop in August and took no action on a legal services agreement with the firm earlier this month.
Ball is the latest new addition to McAllen ISD’s leadership team, which has seen several changes this summer.
The district would not say whether it will be hiring an assistant for the position — a consideration during board talks — or what Ball will be paid.
In August, Gonzalez described plans to treat the position similar to an assistant superintendent.
The maximum pay for assistant superintendents in the district is $152,308, with the midpoint at $132,443.