DA issues subpoena to BISD superintendent

Cameron County authorities on Monday issued a subpoena to BISD Superintendent Dr. Rene Gutierrez requesting messages, videos, and documents related to Board of Trustees vice president Dr. Sylvia Atkinson’s ongoing participation in district meetings and activities.

A status hearing is set in the pending petition to remove Atkinson from her position on the school board for Aug. 14 in the 107th state District Court of Cameron County. The litigation was filed by District Attorney Luis V. Saenz in March after other citizens failed to do so.

The subpoena mandated Gutierrez’s production of correspondence and communication exchanged between himself and Atkinson, any Brownsville Independent School District attorney/counsel, as well as Atkinson’s communications with BISD board members and counsel beginning in December 2018.

The request includes items from both privately owned/accessible devices of BISD board members and employees, as well as those from BISD-owned devices, and suggests an interest in materials specifically related to Atkinson’s pending federal bribery case.

Counsel asked for conflict of interest disclosures and/or statements filed by or submitted on behalf of Atkinson. Board members are required to file such documents with the district.

Additionally requested are campaign finance reports and finance disclosures filed by or submitted on behalf of Atkinson, as well as any and all complaints, grievances, or police reports filed against the trustee.

The district will have to turn over the agendas for any February 2019 BISD board meetings, any and all requests submitted for an agenda item to be placed on the February 2019 board meeting agendas, and video and minutes of those meetings.

Atkinson was in attendance at Wednesday’s emergency school board meeting. Following her December arrest, she announced on social media that she would be voluntarily refraining from attending in-person board meetings as well as any district-sponsored events until her legal matter was resolved.

In a hearing on June 29, Atkinson’s attorney Noe Garza questioned BISD Board Secretary Patricia Perez, referencing communications dating back to January and as recently as June 23 between Atkinson and Gutierrez regarding budget flexibility options.

Atkinson was arrested in December and charged with eight federal counts including conspiracy, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and violation of the Travel Act – State Bribery Law.

An indictment handed down by a federal grand jury accused the trustee of soliciting and accepting a $10,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent in exchange for placing a local film production and advertisement firm’s project proposal on the school board agenda.

In total, if convicted, Atkinson faces up to 45 years in prison and a fine of $2 million, in addition to any funds subject to forfeiture.

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com