Officials, courts looking into board member’s legitimacyPublished 8:44pm Friday, March 1, 2013
Carolyn Bates, long time educator and autism representative for the Selma Disabilities Advocacy Program, was sworn in as a member of the Dallas County School Board last week, but a judge will determine whether or not she can remain in office.
In November, it was discovered by the school board and other county officials that though Bates had won the election running unopposed, she may not be qualified because she does not live in the district in which she ran for office.
The address she listed in her statement to declare her candidacy states she lives on Kingsley Drive, but school board attorney John Pilcher said that area is no longer part of District 3, but rather is part of District 5.
Now Frank Chestnut Sr., who ran as a write-in candidate against Bates, has filed an election contest that is now in litigation.
“It’s pretty simple,” Chestnut’s attorney Wes Kelley said. “The election contest, it is based purely on the fact that [Chestnut] believes, and we have the information to believe, that Mrs. Bates was not a resident of District 3 at the time that she qualified. The law says that you have to be a resident of that district to qualify.”
He said the case is now in litigation and in the discovery phase, meaning both sides are asking questions of one another and gathering information such as proof of residence like bills and letters.
Kelly confirmed a complaint from his office had been filed for the election contest and there was no court date yet so that the discovery phase could continue. He confirmed Bates had filed an answer through her attorney saying she was a resident of District 3 when she qualified to run for office.
The confusion as to why Bates ran for office for District 3 could have come from a mistake made by the Dallas County School Board in 2009, when they appointed a replacement for a board member who resigned.
The board appointed Freeman Waller to District 3 who lives on Woodrow Avenue, just down the street from Bates on the same side of Summerfield Road.
Pilcher said everything on one side of Summerfield Road is in District 5 and the other in District 3.
When Waller was appointed Pilcher said the board, “didn’t check it, we should have, but we didn’t.” He said Waller did not know he was in the wrong district seat and neither did the board.
“We didn’t know about the problem until we learned about Mrs. Bates’ problem,” Pilcher said.
The confusion was spurred on also by the fact that Bates ran unopposed in the Democratic primary earlier in 2012, so her name did not appear on the ballot until the November election. When her name did appear and those that might have tried to vote for her, failed to do so because of their address on their voting card.
Bates also said the Dallas County Board of Registrars had not updated her voting list and she had to go to the registrar office to update her voting information.
“My voting list information was not updated until Feb. 13, 2013,” Bates said. “I mailed separate cards in and nothing was changed, so I walked into the office and manually got the list updated, and this is where I am.”
Though both sides in the case stand by their argument that Bates was or was not living in her district during the election, the fact remains that for now she is sworn in and has the power to sit in on board meetings while the case is still in litigation.
“The business of the school board will now be subject to the uncertainty of the pending case,” Pilcher said about Bates swearing into office.
Pilcher said he feels questions will come up now that she is sworn in such as, during meetings, will quorum depend on whether or not Bates is present because they are unsure if she is a lawful board member.
Pilcher said she came to a school board meeting earlier this year and told the board members she would not take office until the election contest was settled.
“And that satisfied the board,” Pilcher said.
But last week Bates was sworn into office at the Dallas County School central office.
Bates contends she is rightfully the District 3 representative and said, “The whole process really arrived out of misunderstanding is what I see and interpretations from people and hearsay and I have provided sufficient evidence in regards to the district qualifications.”
She said she ran for office to make sure all children receive an education and that there is, “no child that cannot learn,” despite their disabilities.