ROUND ROCK, TX—The “safe and suburban” Central Texas school district, located just outside of Austin, has been wracked with scandal for the past year—ever since the appointment of Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez.
The latest development in the Round Rock ISD saga involves Dr. Mary Bone, one of the two trustees dissenting against Azaiez’s continued appointment, filing a lawsuit against Azaiez for conducting an allegedly illegal investigation of fellow board member Danielle Weston and for hiding financial records regarding the investigation.
“Filing this lawsuit brings me no pleasure but I have informally exhausted all avenues to protect my rights as an elected Trustee of Round Rock ISD and as a taxpayer,” said Bone in a statement.
Last year, five school board members—Amy Weir, Jun Xiao, Amber Feller, Cory Vessa, and Tiffanie Harrison—rushed into hiring Azaiez in June despite objections from fellow trustees (Dr. Mary Bone and Danielle Weston) and citizens.
These five school board members, whom citizens dubbed the “Bad Faith Five,” have protected Azaiez throughout allegations of domestic abuse and criminal investigations into his behavior, which remain ongoing despite some trustees’ claims.
Bone is now bringing suit against Azaiez for the unauthorized use of taxpayer funds to investigate a political opponent.
“In Round Rock ISD, Defendant Hafedh Azaiez is, without authorization, using district funds to conduct an investigation of one of his critics on the school board. Additionally, this pattern of illegal behavior is being hidden from the trustees, in violation of state law,” reads Bone’s petition.
During the December board meeting, complaints arose from the board majority (the “Bad Faith Five”) that Weston had forwarded several emails to third parties; they claimed this could have violated attorney-client privilege. Trustee Vessa then made “a motion that authorized the hiring of attorneys to review the emails in question to evaluate if further investigation was warranted.”
According to the facts in Bone’s petition, three email chains were involved in the board majority’s question. The first is “an unsolicited email to Trustees Weston and Bone from RRISD attorneys Jenny Wells and Doug Poneck that sought to intimidate Weston and Bone into silence regarding their criticism of the Board Majority.”
The second is “an email chain of discussion between board members and legal counsel regarding Governor Abbott’s mask orders that was, with full knowledge of the attorneys on the chain, shared with the Williamson County Attorney, Williamson County Judge, and the TEA, amongst others. At the time the emails were shared with these third parties, there was no objection from the attorneys as to waiver of attorney client privilege.”
The third chain of emails is “from Trustee Weston to various district and TEA officials regarding her concerns over a Texas Open Meetings Act violation at the board’s September 14, 2022, board meeting. One of the board’s lawyers was a recipient. These emails were subsequently shared with local citizens.”
However, the suit alleges that by using the motion to hire attorneys to determine if further investigation is needed, Azaiez is now paying the lawyers to conduct an unauthorized investigation into Weston.
Multiple invoices have been submitted to the district for a “RRISD investigation” that was not approved by the board, and Bone has been unable to acquire unredacted documents from the district regarding the invoices. The lawsuit involves two invoices for more than $25,000. After the filing of Bone’s lawsuit, another invoice for more than $17,000 was approved by Azaiez.
Bone has requested to review those documents but has only been provided with heavily redacted copies that omit all detail on the work the lawyers have performed.
As a trustee, Bone possesses an inherent right of access to district records according to Texas Education Code. Therefore, she is bringing suit against Azaiez and Round Rock ISD for the vindication of her “inherent right of access.” Bone is also seeking injunctive relief as a Williamson County taxpayer against “further illegal expenditures for the unauthorized investigation.”
The saga in Round Rock ISD continues to play out in courtrooms and board meetings as citizens and taxpayers attempt to bring order to a scandal-plagued district.
Last week, local residents held a rally in front of the Texas Education Agency, asking for the TEA to halt the “criminal actions” of the Round Rock ISD board of trustees and Superintendent Azaiez.
According to RRISD mother Christie Slape, “Parents are frustrated. We’re not getting heard by our school board. So, we’re appealing to the Texas Education Agency to help us. We need their help as they supervise all of the school districts in the state.”
Four members of the “Bad Faith Five” will be up for re-election in November.
Trustee Jun Xiao is resigning, and the board is meeting on Tuesday to consider his resignation.