Arbitrator: Board should oust Rude

Published 12:12 pm Saturday, March 6, 2010

Monday could be Curt Rude’s final school board meeting — and an independent arbitrator has recommended that be the case.

Independent hearing officer Richard John Miller presented his findings to the district late Wednesday, advising the board to remove Rude from its ranks.

In light of the recommendation, the Austin Public School Board will cast its final vote Monday on a resolution to oust the controversial member — about a month after the unprecedented process to de-seat him began.

The board began the pursuit of Rude’s removal in early February, alleging, among other things, that his civil defamation lawsuit against the district creates a conflict of interest. The district held a hearing weeks later with the independent arbitrator.

Under state law, four members of a school board can vote to remove any member for “proper cause,” a term which is not defined within the law.

Miller’s recommendation notes that school boards have the power to interpret the term and that Rude’s lawsuit and record of service are grounds to oust him.

“Rude’s failure to perform his duties as a School Board member, as established by his multiple violations of School Board Member Code of Conduct… constitutes ‘proper cause’ for his removal from the School Board,” Miller wrote in his recommendation.

Miller noted that Rude’s lawsuit poses a conflict of interest because as a board member Rude could be asked to vote on his own settlement, and also because Rude is suing the district for decisions that, as a board member, he was involved in.

Rude is currently suing former superintendent Candace Raskin and the school district for defamation. He seeks at least $50,000 in damages.

“Mr. Rude’s complaint demanding money damages… is a conflict of interest in violation of state law,” the recommendation stated.

In addition to the conflict of interest claim, Miller’s recommendation also cites that Rude has violated further sections of a school board member code of conduct. Rude’s lawsuit could impede the district financially, and is thus not in the best interest of students — a violation of policy 209, according to Miller.

Rude’s record of attendance — missing 13 meetings in 2009, and being forced off a committee due to lack of attendance — also violates the code of conduct, according to Miller.

Miller stated that these actions “resulted in Mr. Rude being incapable of effectively performing the primary duty of a school board member.”

Rude did not attend the hearing in mid-February at which Miller was to receive his defense and the school board’s argument. Rude rather submitted a letter stating that after researching news stories and consulting with his lawyer, he believed he could maintain his position as long as he excluded himself from meetings regarding the lawsuit.

These claims were unverified and without legal authority, Miller wrote.

“Consequently, Mr. Rude did not submit any credible evidence or legal authority to support his argument that his lawsuit against the School District does not create a conflict of interest.”

If Rude is removed from the school board Monday, he will be replaced by a board appointee to serve for the duration of his term, as mandated by state law.

The school board meets Monday, March 8 at 6:30 p.m. in the city council chambers.