The Wayback Machine: Board Fires the Superintendent. Is the Board “Incompetent”?

This is the second of two Wayback Machine entries this week. We’re doing this in anticipation of this weekend’s TASA/TASB Convention. We thought you’d be interested in old cases involving trustee removal.

Today we’re talking about the resolution adopted by the board in Nederland ISD on June 19, 1972. The resolution gave the superintendent, Emmett McKenzie, the opportunity to accept his termination in exchange for $20,000, which was the balance on his contract. The superintendent took the deal, but many members of the community were not happy about this. In the lawsuit, they noted that the majority of the board did not give any reasons for dumping the superintendent. They argued that this demonstrated incompetence.

The court’s opinion tells us that the superintendent had been a point of contention in NISD for some time. In a recent election, the anti-superintendents had taken over the majority on the board from the pro-superintendents. Shortly thereafter, Mr. McKenzie was gone.

(We know what some of you are thinking: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose).

The jury sided with the pro-superintendent people, concluding that the board members were incompetent and should be removed from office. But on appeal, the decision was reversed. The court pointed out that there was nothing in the law that required the board to explain why they chose to buy out the superintendent. This was long before we had a Term Contract Nonrenewal Act, or Chapter 21 proceedings. Here, the court held that the board’s decision may have been unwise, but it was not illegal:

When public officials manifestly violate their duty, courts must have the courage to remove them or negate their actions. But where in a discretionary decision, such as here, the most that can be said is that perhaps poor judgment was used; for the courts to fly in and substitute their judgment for that of elected officials would be to undermine the very foundation of our political system.

The court concluded that the remedy of the plaintiffs in this case was “political, not judicial.”

The case is Harper v. Taylor, decided by the Court of Civil Appeals in Beaumont on January 11, 1973. You can find it at 490 S.W.2d 227.


File this one under: GOVERNANCE

Tomorrow: Oh No! We are 0-4!! Can we fire the coach?