Haussmann says ‘private town hall’ would have been open to all, except troublemakers
JAMES RUSSELL | Staff Writer
It’s been a year since Keller Independent School District trustees first censured trustee Jo Lynn Haussmann for making disparaging comments about a Muslim election official on social media.
But now she may have really gone too far, as some legal experts suggest that her efforts to kill a proposed district policy protecting LGBT faculty and students could result in her removal from the board.
Haussmann’s public statements and social media comments against the policy change, along with opposition from her fellow trustee Brad Schofield, forced the Keller ISD board to postpone a vote on the LGBT nondiscrimination and harassment policy on Thursday. Aug. 13.
The policy would have extended protections to students and employees based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, as well as other currently protected classes such as race, sex and religion.
But in screenshots shared with the Dallas Voice, Haussmann shares a different interpretation.
In one post, she called the policy change unnecessary, alleging all students are already protected against bullying.
“KISD has a very strong stance against bullying. All students are protected against bullying,” she wrote, instead blaming the push for an ordinance on “two lesbians [who] attended a school board meeting and felt they were being bullied.”
To Haussmann, the real agenda for supporters of the proposed policy is what’s behind the bathroom door.
“I asked [Superintendent Randy Reid] what they would do with the transgenders and homosexuals once they would get ‘their choice’ of restroom or locker room; ie, if they’re a boy and ‘think’ they’re female they can use the girls’ restroom or locker room. YUCK!” Haussmann wrote in a post on social media. “The reason I am sharing this is not only because I am so upset, but because I NEED YOU AT OUR NEXT BOARD MEETING.”
The post was widely circulated on social media and galvanized both sides to attend the Aug. 13 board meeting.
Haussmann did offer a solution for transgender individuals. In one post, she supported the idea that “transgenders” undergo reparative therapy — the discredited psychological practice purporting to help LGBT people can change their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In an e-mail to the Dallas Voice, Haussmann defended her positions.
“All students are equally protected. Dr. Reid, Amanda Bigbee, KISD legal counsel, both agreed with me everyone is protected,” she wrote. “If we specifically identify any group and separate them from the ‘all’, then we are exposing them to segregation which is inappropriate. The policy [as is] was designed to protect any and all students. The issue here is not about the policies.”
Instead of just working to get Haussmann censured again, some want to go a step further.
In Texas, a local official, including a school board member, may be removed for incompetency, official misconduct, criminal conviction or intoxication. But state law bars elected officials from ousting their own colleague.
Some entities, including the Keller ISD, lack a recall process for elected officials.
But attorneys briefed on the issue said that under a little-known local government code, Haussman could be removed from office for incompetency or official misconduct.
“Unless a home rule municipality has a recall process, removing an elected official requires a civil lawsuit in district court,” said Scott Houston, deputy executive director for policy and general counsel at the Texas Municipal League. “After looking at the case’s merit, a judge may dismiss the case or proceed with a trial by jury.”
Houston said he doesn’t know how many times such a petition has been filed since the laws for removing an elected official changed in 1999. As best he can recall, he said, no elected official has been removed under this rule.
Should a judge take a case, neither the plaintiff nor defendant holds an edge. The code’s broad language works for both parties.
Haussmann could successfully be tried for failure to discharge one’s legally sworn duties as an elected official, said Austin Kaplan, an Austin lawyer. But she could prevail in court, too.
Under the law, for example, any alleged malfeasance used as a basis for removing someone from office, must have happened while the person was in office.
For instance, two years before she was elected to the school district, Haussmann backed the Republican presidential nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, over the Democratic incumbent, President Barack Obama, in an at least vaguely threatening comment on the YouTube video “Throwing Away the Vote,” posted on Aug. 28, 2012.
“RIGHT! That’s what I said, ‘MORMONS DO ‘NOT’ SUPPORT ABORTION OR SAME SEX [sic] MARRIAGE!’ If Muslims aren’t for it, then why is Obama and all of his [M]uslim followers supporting it?” she wrote. “Why is HE not decapitated?!!”
Kaplan said the comment is disturbing, but couldn’t be used against Haussmann in a removal hearing.
“Threatening the President of the United States is a felony. To the extent this suggests a threat, it could be used as evidence of incompetence. However, if confronted with removal this official would almost certainly argue the comment is not relevant because it precedes her time in office,” Kaplan explained.
Besides, Haussmann’s statements by themselves are not sufficient enough evidence to disqualify her from office.
According to a review of board minutes by the Voice, since joining the Keller ISD board a year ago, she has also missed 10 meetings: two regularly scheduled board meetings, three citizens’ bond committee meetings, two special scheduled meetings and three meetings related to the district’s community ambassador program.
Haussmann said the board received advance notice of her absences.
“Everytime [sic] I have ever missed a meeting, they were excused and our board president and superintendent were informed in advance. There are those who have missed far more than myself. Regularly scheduled board meetings are all thats [sic] required,” she wrote in an email to Dallas Voice. “I am involved in much more than the school board thus making it difficult to attend everything.”
Other activists sounded alarm over a “private town hall” Haussmann planned, with Schofield and conservative activist Alice Linahan, to hold at a Spring Creek BBQ location in Keller to discuss the district’s “LGBT Protection Policy Changes.”
Haussmann ultimately canceled the event after a discussion with Spring Creek’s corporate office.
“But it was open to all,” she wrote to Dallas Voice, “except anyone who was going to cause trouble.”
That raised red flags for Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, which advocates for open government.
“If the meeting is advertised as a town hall but is private, the spirit of [open government] is not there,” she said.
Shannon said the event could essentially constitute “a walking quorum,” which is when less than a quorum of the officials of an elected body meets to deliberate and pass policy in private instead of in an open meeting.
Haussmann also urged Dallas Voice to “only publish truth.”
“The problem with [the] media is you all turn everything and twist it to look bad,” she wrote in her email. “Why can’t you for once speak facts and truth?”
Haussmann is not up for re-election until 2017.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 28, 2015.