Colin Carney has been appointed to the vacant seat on the Humble ISD school board.

Carney, a CPA, is an asset and wealth management tax director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

He earned a bachelor of arts  in accounting and master of taxation degrees from Baylor University.. His family includes wife, Jennifer, a former Humble ISD teacher, daughter Addison, an Humble ISD elementary school student, and son Blake, a pre-schooler. The Carney family has resided in Humble ISD for the past 10 years.  Carney has volunteered as a Junior Achievement instructor, YMCA T-ball coach, and Alliance youth soccer coach.

Carney said that he first became interested in the position when he heard the board was taking applications.

The vacancy occurred when trustee Heath Rushing resigned due to a job relocation. Rushing submitted his resignation a few days after the deadline passed to add his position to the already scheduled election for board seats, held May 6.

Carney said he chose not to run in the election because the timing didn’t work well for his career. (Candidates filed  Feb. 17 for the May election.)

Colin Carney

Carney stated on his application that he has never attended a school board meeting, but has watched online since January 2017.  Carney said that he is committed to bringing energy and enthusiasm to the board, learning more about the issues impacting the current and future state of the district, and working collaboratively with fellow board members to make the best decisions for current and future generations of Humble ISD stakeholders.

Carney stated in his application that the district’s biggest challenge is “ensuring a successful bond referendum to manage the explosive growth.”

“Mr. Rushing is a good man and was a huge asset to the board," Board President Angela Conrad said. "His energy and experience will be hard to replace, but Colin should be able to hit the ground running. His experience with business, finance and education will bring a valuable perspective to the group. He also brings an open mind and desire to learn. Those are attributes that will serve the community well."

Carney said he does not know any of the board members, but has perhaps met a couple of them once or twice. Sitton said the same is true of the board’s relationship with Carney. “I may have met him once or twice here and there, but none of us knew him,” Sitton said.

“I think it speaks well of our community that we had 14 very qualified and engaged individuals who are willing to dedicate their time to serve on the board. It’s encouraging to know that Humble ISD has these leaders in our community who are looking out for the welfare of our students, teachers and community,” Conrad said.

Board chooses to appoint rather than hold election

The appointment brings to an end a very contentious period of filling the  board seats.

In June, the board decided to appoint someone to the vacancy rather than hold an election. Board member Charles Cunningham and  newly elected trustee Martina Dixon voted against the rest of the board, stating that they preferred the community fill the seat via election.

Applicants were asked to submit their names through July 31.

A special board meeting was called Aug. 1, and the board was expected to make a decision at that meeting, which began nearly 40 minutes late because the board members remained in closed session deliberations. When the meeting did convene, board president Angela Conrad stated that more time was needed to properly review the 14 applications. The board then announced that the appointee would be named and sworn in at the regular Aug. 8 meeting.

Following the Aug. 1 meeting, board members began contacting references in some cases. Candidates Lohit Datta-Barua, Chris Herron and Bob Rehak were immediately informed that they had not been selected for the position. All three ran against incumbents in the May 2017 trustee election. Corinn Price and Robert Scarfo were the only other two applicants who had prior unsuccessful bids.

Rehak stated that his references were not even called.  Herron said that he dropped off his application late in the afternoon of July 28. The next morning, a board member contacted one of his references, David Kully, a Department of Justice antitrust lawyer. “By noon, Nancy Morrison had called me to say I was not chosen.”

“I never thought I had a chance, realistically, because we (Herron, Rehak, Whitmire) ran against them strongly. We didn’t win. I applied for Rushing’s open seat anyway because I didn’t want this board to dictate my narrative. I’m still concerned that the decision was taken out of the hands of the voters in a deliberate attempt to hold on and preserve power. This board dictated everything: when the election would be, where early voting would be, where final voting would be, and whether we got to fill Rushing’s seat or they did. I now see that there is a clear pattern to preserve incumbent power. All of this was conducted behind closed doors. We should expect transparency from elected officials. This entire process should be reviewed,” Herron said.

Herron continued by saying, “School board elections used to be pretty simple. Everyone went to the gym on a Saturday,and  a couple of candidates spoke about why they’d be the best choice. Now we have elections that involve the Tea Party dropping a significant amount of money on a smear campaign against candidate Abby (Whitmire). I mean how does a little school board election in Humble, Texas, end up in Breitbart News anyway?”

“I am sure Colin Carney is a good candidate. It’s the process that was used that bothers me,” Rehak said.

“I just wish that Heath Rushing would have announced his resignation before the filing deadline to give the voters in Humble ISD the opportunity to select his replacement,” Whitmire said.

Herron said that he’s still interested in serving the district and has applied for the bond committee: “My background in comparative financial analysis, underwriting and bond markets means that I could credibly serve.

 

Transparency and prior relationships?

Colin Carney was a surprise choice for the board, since his resume is light on community and school involvement. Carney and Robert Sitton, a board member, both said at the last board meeting that they don’t know each other. Carney also said he really doesn’t know anyone on the board.
Carney was chosen Aug. 8 from a field of 14 candidates. When asked if he knew any board members, including outgoing members Brent Engelage or Heath Rushing, Carney stated that he didn’t know any of them. The same question was posed to Sitton, who initially said that he did not know Carney, then added that he may have met him once or twice before. Once The Tribune posted the story online about Carney’s appointment and quoted the two men as stating that they did not know each other, incredulous readers alerted the paper to the close proximity of Sitton’s Edward Jones storefront and Carney’s Tutoring, a business owned by Colin Carney’s wife, Jennifer. They, until recently, were located next door to each other. Carney’s Tutoring consolidated to the Kingwood location after Memorial Day.
Readers also stated their suspicions that Carney was hand picked due to his friendship with board members and former members.
“I’ve never met or spoken with Mr. Engelage. I met Mr. Rushing once at a FamilyTime gala several years ago, which I attended with my wife, who is a former Women of Achievement award recipient. I simply shook Mr. Rushing’s hand and introduced myself, and that was the extent of the interaction. As for sitting board members, the only one I had met was Mr. Sitton, in a brief interaction similar to Rushing,” said Carney. Sara Rushing, a friend of Jennifer Carney’s on Facebook who offered her congratulations via social media, was contacted about the extent of the Rushing-Carney relationship, but she declined to comment.
Sitton stated that he met Carney one time back in late May or early June at his wife’s business. “Let me be very clear, the subject of the school board did not come up,” Sitton said.
Carney said that because he had never met any of the other board members, he was very flattered to be the appointee.
Some community members continue to criticize the board for lack of both financial and public transparency. The board continues to say that events prior to and after the election are not calculated or manipulative efforts, but simply the normal steps required to enact their board duties. For example, at the Aug. 8 meeting, Sitton announced that the board had received the Texas State Comptroller’s Office financial transparency star. The board has recently done a full revamping of their financial website after multiple criticisms in board meeting public comments regarding the difficulty of locating information. The board seems to be tired of the constant challenges to their transparency, evidenced by board member Angela Conrad’s somewhat sarcastic and rhetorical question to Sitton. “So, we’re transparent?,” Conrad asked, to which Sitton responded, “We got the star.”

 

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This story was updated Aug. 1 at 9:15 a.m.

There are 14 people who have applied to be appointed to the Humble ISD School Board. The vacancy, Position 6, occurred when former trustee Heath Rushing resigned earlier this year due to a job relocation. The appointment will extend until the May 2019 election. 

The board decided last month to make the choice themselves rather than holding an election, announcing at the June meeting they would accept applications through Monday, July 31, at 5 p.m. As the deadline drew near, four additional applications were submitted, bringing the total to 14.

Robert Scarfo, Lohit Datta-Barua, Maury Hudson, Ted LeBlanc, Bob Rehak, Corinn Price, Cynthia Cantrell, Christopher Herron, Joy Thomas, Rebekah Curran, Sarah Bull, G. Carneta Hunte-Larkin, Remon Davis and Colin Carney are seeking the appointment.

Humble ISD seeks top candidate

Hudson is an energy company executive and father to three Humble ISD students. Carney is a CPA with PricewaterhouseCoopers and is a father of two.

First joining the board in 2008, Scarfo lost his re-election bid to challenger Nancy Morrison in the general election May 9, 2015. Scarfo declined to answer when asked if he saw a conflict of asking to be appointed after the voters clearly felt otherwise. Nor did he answer a question regarding feeling “in debt” to, and thereby compelled to follow the wishes of those who appoint him. Hudson did answer the question, saying he would not since he has prior experience working on boards, weighing issues and making decisions with students' interests in mind.

Datta-Barua, a retired engineer, and Rehak, a retired advertising executive, both ran unsuccessfully in the recent general election held May 6, 2017. LeBlanc runs a for-profit business organizing fundraisers for charities.

Herron, an executive with NRG, ran in the last election but did not secure a seat. Price works for Insperity and ran unsuccessfully in the May 2013 election. Cantrell stated she is a homemaker and a longtime volunteer in Humble schools. Davis works for AT&T as a telecommunication specialist.

Bull is a pilot for United Airlines, Hunte-Larkin is a business owner, Curran is a mother who homeschools her children and Thomas is an attorney.

All applicants were asked to commit to running in 2019 for a four-year term. Under state law, qualifications for a board member include living in the district for at least 18 months, being 18 years old or older, and being a registered voter in the district.

The board, in a split vote, decided to make the choice themselves instead of allowing the taxpayers to vote; the reasoning put forth was the cost of holding an election and historical precedent. The decision to deny voters a voice in the decision drew fierce criticism on social media sites like Facebook’s Humble ISD Parents page.

The district released the following statement when announcing the application process: When a vacancy occurs on a school board, Texas law requires that districts fill the position within 180 days of the vacancy if more than a year remains on the term. The district under state law would have been permitted to hold a special election to fill the seat, rather than fill by appointment, but it costs about $50,000 to hold a special election. Since 1951, there have been 19 times when a vacancy on the Humble ISD School Board occurred before the term had expired. In no instance was a special election held. Fourteen times the position was filled by appointment, and five times the position remain unfilled until the regularly scheduled election. Position 6 must be filled due to there being more than a year remaining on the term.

A special board meeting is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1 where the board is expected to make the decision with the new board member being sworn in at the regular August meeting, Aug. 8.

The complete application for each person seeking the seat may be found at OurTribune.com. Look for the information on the horizontal site directory bar on the home page.

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The Humble ISD board of trustees called a special board meeting June 20 to discuss filling of the Position 6 seat vacated by Heath Rushing earlier this year.

Rushing resigned April 11 (with an effective date of May 9), two full months after he left his role at Memorial Hermann Northeast on Feb. 6 to take on the CEO position at Memorial Hermann Cypress and Katy hospitals.
The board has also had two full months (April 11 to June 20) to address the vacated Position 6. As outgoing board president, Keith Lapeze said he did not intentionally delay the discussion, but instead made the decision to delay the discussion until new board members were elected. Incumbents and Martina Dixon, newly elected to Position 5, were sworn in on June 13, yet the Rushing resignation was not on the agenda, despite requests by community members to add it. The board professed needing time to understand the different options.
The board has three options in this situation: elect, appoint or leave vacant.
Position 6 can only be left vacant for six months because more than a year remains on the term (the term expires in May 2019).

It has already been vacant for two months, awaiting the board to address the situation.
A discussion ensued regarding whether to elect or appoint, with Angela Conrad stating that the seat needed to be filled sooner rather than later, and pushing for it to be filled by August.
Robert Sitton presented historical information dating back to 1952, showing how board replacements have been handled in the 19 times it has occurred within that time frame. Five times, the positions were left vacant because the terms had less than one year remaining. The board appointed replacements in the other 14 instances. Sitton stated that 11 of the 14 appointees then ran for election. “Seeing that we’ve never had a special election outside of a regular election, it would set a precedent,” Lapeze said.
The election option was discussed. Filling the seat in this manner requires a special election which, in Texas, can only be held on the uniform election dates of November 2017 or May 2018. The board immediately jumped to discussion of a May 2018 election, and Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Fagen provided cost projections for May 2018, despite November 2017 also being an option. When Lapeze posed a question about the November option, Conrad asked Humble ISD legal counsel Rob Ross regarding the deadline date for posting notice of a special election. Boards are required to post notice 30 days before the filing deadline for a November special election. When Ross responded that June 22 was the posting deadline, Conrad seemed shocked, saying, “The day after tomorrow?” Lapeze said, “I thought we had more time to discuss it and put it on the ballot. I guess it was fortuitous that we had the discussion tonight.” November as an option was then quickly ruled out due to lack of preparation time. Per the Texas Open Meetings Act, the board can discuss the vacancy in closed session, but the vote regarding how to fill the vacancy must be in an open session.
The majority of board members also expressed concerns about holding an election due to the estimated $50,000 cost of conducting it. Lapeze said the election would occur anyway in less than two years (23 months actually), and posed the “why hold it now” question. “I was initially thinking about an election, but an appointment makes sense because of the cost. That money could pay for another teacher.”
Lapeze and Nancy Morrison both also said that the district needed to preserve funds because Humble ISD did not receive any additional funding from the 2017 Texas Legislature. Conrad also said that an election would be draining to the administration. Notably, $10.5 million is allocated in the newly approved budget for administrative costs.
The board approved a $447 million total budget the same night; $50,000 amounts to 0.0001 of that overall budget, a negligible amount. They also reported a budget surplus of nearly $4 million.
Charles Cunningham initially stated that he would rather see an election, but said he might consider an appointment under certain conditions: “I want someone who is ready to work, not just someone who is going to be sitting there as a placeholder. We need someone to work for our kids.”
Most of the board leaned toward appointment. Conrad, the new board president, stated that the election process can be intimidating, and that the appointment process was a way to attract people to the position without going through the candidate process. Morrison was also keen on recruitment, citing examples from her sessions at TASB leadership; Morrison agreed with Conrad that there are likely many highly devoted candidates in the community who don’t necessarily relish the election process. Martina Dixon asked Conrad about guidelines the board was required to follow, and Conrad stated that there is leeway. She had looked to TASB leadership and at how other school boards had handled filling a board seat. Conrad stated that it largely depended on a particular district’s tradition. Some had community input; some allowed each trustee to submit a nominee with an interview and application process that is open. Some brought in finalists for interviews. Sitton wanted clarification from Conrad about how the appointment process would take place, specifying that a process, criteria and time line would be needed. The board discussed a possible application process, resume submittals and an interview process. The board is looking at an August/September time frame for appointment. Lapeze suggested that the person could be appointed earlier if the interview process was abandoned and only applications were used. Cunningham stated that he didn’t believe interviews needed to be conducted publicly, so conducting them privately would save time.
So how did the board members vote?
Lapeze stated that he preferred to leave the seat vacant, but since the law did not allow that, he was in favor of appointment and voted as such. Sitton, Conrad and Morrison voted for appointment. Cunningham and Dixon voted against.
In the end, new board member Dixon was the only member who strongly spoke out about election without wavering. Dixon ran for Rushing’s seat in 2014 and ultimately lost that race. “I’m glad that Heath Rushing was elected and not appointed because it made the entire process fair. It is important to let the community make that decision. There are two years left on the term,” Dixon said.
According to Barbara Williams, communications representative for the TASB, an appointee must be a US citizen, age 18 or older, and must not be mentally incapacitated or a felon. The appointee must also be a resident of Texas and the district.

 

 

Before you go …

… we’ve got a small favor to ask. More people are reading The Tribune than ever. Advertising revenues across the media  spectrum are falling fast. And unlike many news organizations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. The Tribune's independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too. If everyone who reads our reporting, who likes it, helps to support it, our future would be much more secure. Support the only locally owned, locally produced news product in the Lake Houston area.  And thank you!