An El Paso Independent School District trustee tells ABC-7 she is concerned about what she believes to be a lack of transparency and a conflict of interest.
EPISD District 7 Trustee Mickey Loweree said she did not know District 3 Trustee Susie Byrd was campaign manager for Veronica Escobar, who is running for Congress in the Democratic primary.
Loweree said she learned bout Byrd's involvement with the Escobar campaign through an article in the El Paso Times. "We prided ourselves on being transparent and being accountable and there was a complete lack of accountability and impartialness from Trustee Byrd," Loweree said.
"I think anybody who knows me, who reads the paper, knows that I've been the campaign manager since the beginning of the campaign," Byrd told ABC-7. "I haven't hidden that. I've been very transparent about that."
Loweree said she believes, because of Byrd's position on the board, she made it possible for Escobar to secure an endorsement from the American Federation of Teachers. "It's a huge conflict of interest to be a campaign manager for a political figure and secure contributions and endorsements from one of the teacher unions here in the school district and be on the board and try to maintain neutrality," Loweree said. "It's just impossible to do."
Byrd said she stayed out of conversations regarding Escobar and securing an endorsement from any teacher's union. Byrd said both AFT and the Texas State Teacher's Association endorsed Escobar.
"I made it really clear to the unions that my relationship with them, with the school board unions, is about the school district," Byrd said. "So I purposely stayed out of all of those conversations. Veronica made those contacts directly."
Loweree said the endorsement is a conflict of interest because the union consistently comes to the board with concerns. "You have to maintain some sort of anonymity and just be neutral with everything," Loweree said. "And it's very hard if you're trying to secure an endorsement for a person you're representing."
"I don't follow how that's a conflict of interest," Byrd said. "They come to us and talk to us about issues that we are expected, as trustees, to work on. We're expected to listen to employees. I'm a little bit flummoxed about what this has to do with the campaign."
Ross Moore, president of AFT, told ABC-7 the union goes directly through the candidate. Moore also said the decision to endorse Escobar was made by AFT National, not the local El Paso affiliate.
"The decision to endorse in a federal election is by national," Moore said. "We're not allowed to contribute money to them. Yes, a contribution was made. That was AFT National's contribution."
EPISD Board President Trent Hatch also told ABC-7 he was unaware Byrd was Escobar's campaign manager until a paid endorsement was made, stating, "There's no room for politics on the board."
EPISD Board Vice President Bob Geske said he also learned about Byrd's involvement just a few weeks ago. Geske told ABC-7 whatever Byrd does on her own time is on her own time.
Al Velarde, trustee for district 2, told ABC-7 he has no opinion about the issue. He said he knew Byrd was involved in the campaign and said because she's an elected official, she has a right to participate in any political process.
ABC-7 reached out to the other board members and is still waiting to hear back.