Two Carroll ISD board members have been indicted on misdemeanor charges that allege violations to the Texas Open Meetings Act, according to documents from the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office.
CISD board President Michelle Moore and Vice President Todd Carlton were indicted April 1 by a Tarrant County grand jury on suspicion of “[conspiring] to circumvent for secret deliberations.” Carlton was booked in jail April 5 and released on a $500 bond the same day, records show. Records were not available for Moore.
The two school board members are accused of “knowingly [engaging] in at least one communication in a series of communications" outside a school board meeting that was in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. The indictment states that the board members were "engaging in a series of communications [that] constitute a quorum of members and knew at the time ... that the series of communications involved a quorum and would constitute a deliberation."
The topic being discussed during these communications on or about Aug. 3, 2020, was the district's proposed cultural competence action plan, according to the indictment.
Moore declined to comment on the misdemeanor charge and directed media questions to her attorney.
Her attorney, Mark Daniel of Mark Daniel Law, said the criminal prosecution has been brought by “political and philosophical differences.”
“We respectfully view this as a tremendous waste of resources,” Daniel said in a written statement. “No one cares more or has done more to protect the safety and welfare of the children of Carroll Independent School District than Michelle Moore. On behalf of Ms. Moore, we look forward to being exonerated and her full attention once again being devoted to the education of our children.”
Carlton’s attorney, Jeff Kearney of Kearney Law Firm, could not be reached for comment.
Carroll ISD issued a statement, saying: "Carroll ISD’s seven elected trustees dedicate many hours of service to ensuring a quality education for all Dragons. Yesterday, the district was informed that two current board members were indicted on charges related to alleged violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act. The CISD Administration remains focused on providing a safe and caring learning environment for all students. We stand committed to our Dragon core values and will work with the community and our school board to continue to foster public trust."
In 2019, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that revised the criminal provision of the open meetings law to specify deliberations to include written communications after the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals found some of the language unconstitutionally vague.
Joe Larsen, a First Amendment attorney and a board member for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said while the open meetings law is often violated by state officers, most are not criminally pursued.
“It's not an easy lift for the prosecutor," Larsen said adding that a prosecutor would have to show elected officials knew what they were doing.
All elected officials in Texas are required to take a state-approved class on the open meeting law.
“Democracy is not always easy,” Larsen said. “[But] in order to have a transparent government, you do have to do your business in front of the people.”
A hearing date for Moore and Carlton has yet to be announced. The misdemeanor charge carries penalties of a fine between $100 and $500 and between one to six months in county jail.
The criminal charges come as several board members are embroiled in a separate civil lawsuit alleging violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act. The civil suit names Moore and Carlton as well as board members Sheri Mills, Danny Gilpin and David Almand. The suit is based on a series of text messages among some of the board members about the district’s proposed cultural competence action plan, which was supposed to be voted on in August 2020.
A temporary restraining order as part of the civil suit prohibits the district and its school board from taking an action on the plan. The parties involved in the civil suit are in mediation, according to court documents.
No criminal charges have been announced against Mills, Gilpin or Almand as of April 6.