Petitions call for school board members’ removals

Oscar Medrano and Janie Lopez file the petition for removal of Michael Vargas from the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District Board of Trustees Tuesday at the Cameron County District Clerk's office. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

School board critics in Brownsville and San Benito filed petitions Tuesday morning in state District Court in Brownsville calling for the removal of a board trustee in each city who faces charges of driving while intoxicated.

The petitions were filed separately calling for the ouster of Erasmo Castro Jr. from the Brownsville Independent School District Board of Trustees, and of Michael Vargas from the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District. Vargas is the president of the San Benito board and was elected in 2015. Castro was elected in November 2018. Both have said they intend to continue to serve.

The petitions were filed with District Clerk Eric Garza, whose office then assigned each to a district court — Castro’s to the 197th state District Court and Vargas’ to the 107th. Each petition is addressed to the judge of the court under the provisions of Chapter 87.015 of the Texas Local Government Code and cites intoxication as the reason for removal. Both were filed pro se, meaning without the assistance of an attorney.

Brownsville police arrested Castro early the morning of Sept. 2 at the 900 block of Morrison Road in Brownsville. Police reports obtained by The Brownsville Herald allege that Castro failed a field sobriety test and was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. He subsequently refused a breath and blood alcohol test, according to police.

Municipal Judge Phil Bellamy signed an arrest warrant and the tests were administered

Vargas was arrested July 5 on a similar charge in Harlingen after police found him sleeping in his car at a Taco Bell restaurant in Harlingen, according to police.

Brownsville resident Zachary A. Blevins filed the petition against Castro. It is also signed by Jesus Guevara, Josue Covarrubias and Rocio Patino, all Brownsville residents with students in BISD schools, Blevins said.

“My thinking is if we expect our students to refrain from drinking and driving, then our elected officials need be examples to them,” Blevins said Monday. “With Mr. Castro’s troublesome behavior I felt it was necessary to push forward with the petition.”

After Castro’s DWI arrest, Blevins started a petition on change.org calling on the BISD board to remove Castro. As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition had 3,442 signatures.

Under Chapter 87.015 of the Texas Local Government Code, removal of a school board member can be initiated by petition to the judge of the state district court where the trustee resides. The code lists virtually all state elected officials including members of an independent school district board of trustees.

The code lists Intoxication as one of the charges for which an official can be removed.

The two petitions were assigned to district courts based on standard procedure for lawsuits filed in the district, Garza said.

Migdalia Lopez is the judge of the 197th state District Court where the Brownsville petition was assigned.

Judge Benjamin Euresti Jr. presides over the 107th state District Court where the San Benito petition was assigned.

The Texas Local Government Code requires the district attorney in the county where such a petition is filed to litigate the matter.

Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz said last week that the petition method for removing a school board member has not been used in the 35 years he has been prosecuting cases in Cameron County. He also said he could find no evidence the method had been used recently in Texas.

glong@brownsvilleherald.com