As if to prove a point made by a Texas Education Agency investigation into financial mismanagement, Weslaco Independent School District trustees have threatened to spend taxpayer money to sue the local newspaper.
In dudgeon as high as only school boards can muster, Weslaco board members promised to take “any legal action necessary to preserve its rights,” unless the McAllen Monitor removes from its website a story based on the TEA audit and the text of a confidential memo sent to board members outlining the investigation’s results, the Monitor is reporting.
The story, published on Nov. 1, focuses on several criticisms by the TEA of decisions made under former Superintendent Richard Rivera for the school district, between McAllen and Harlingen.
For instance, diverting $2 million from a worker’s compensation fund to help build a press box for the football stadium, the audit said.
No one on the board is suggesting anything in the story or the audit is incorrect, not that that matters. What has the board particularly chapped is how its super-secret memo got leaked to the Monitor.
School district attorney Fernando Saenz, who has been putting all of this bile in letter form, pleaded attorney-client privilege for the memo, while acknowledging Texas laws that protect journalists from being made to give up their sources.
The letter to the Monitor, Saenz said - perhaps playing good cop to the school board’s bad - is really just a formality.
Steve Fagan, executive editor of the Monitor, is treating the threat as even less than that. The paper has no intention of removing the story. Any lawsuit based on the letter would be frivolous and unwinnable, Fagan said.
And if the district sued and lost, Fagan said, the newspaper would ask that its legal fees be repaid by the district. In others words, district taxpayers.
Or maybe there’s still a little left over in the worker’s compensation fund, if it hasn’t already been spent on a Jumbotron.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.
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Photo of money by flickr user 401 (K) 2012, used via a Creative Commons license.