Ballots for the Kleberg County Appraisal District Board of Directors have been sent out despite claims from the Ricardo and Riviera Independent School District superintendents that they did not receive notification from the chief appraiser, causing them to miss the nomination deadline.

“I believe that we should have been allowed to have a special board meeting to nominate our candidate and send it in,” Riviera ISD Superintendent Karen Unterbrink said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Because she (Chief Appraiser Ernestina Flores) had until Oct. 30 to send out the ballot, and we would’ve been within that timeline.”

“This isn’t the first time some districts have not met the date,” Flores said in an interview this week. “I’ve treated everybody the same, and I’m comfortable with those decisions because I am following the law, and when there are questions, I do seek legal advice and make my determinations based on that.”

Each of the nine entities served by the Kleberg County Appraisal District — Kleberg County, the City of Kingsville, KISD, Ricardo Independent School District, Riviera Independent School District, Santa Gertrudis Independent School District, South Texas Water Authority, the Kenedy County Groundwater Conservation District and the City of Corpus Christi — can nominate individuals to serve on the Board of Directors.

The entities are also allocated a specific percentage of 5,000 total votes, based on 2018 tax levies.

Prior to Oct. 1 on odd-numbered years, the chief appraiser notifies each voting entity of the number of votes it may cast. Those entities then have until Oct. 15 to nominate by resolution candidates for each position on the board of directors.

The chief appraiser must then prepare a ballot listing all nominees alphabetically by each candidate’s name, a copy of which is then delivered to the presiding officer of the governing body of each voting entity before Oct. 30.

This year’s nominees are Daniel Morales and Al Higginbotham, both nominated by Kleberg County, Al Garcia as the nominee from the City of Kingsville, and Kingsville ISD’s nominees are Lynn Yaklin and Brandon Greenwood.

Gregory Wallace, who currently serves on the board and has in the past been nominated by the Ricardo and Riviera ISDs, did not receive a nomination this year.

In separate emails dated Oct. 29 and provided to the Kingsville Record, both Riviera ISD Superintendent Karen Unterbrink and Ricardo ISD Superintendent Vita Canales contacted Flores regarding missing the deadline for appraisal board nominations.

Unterbrink said in her email that she had called Flores on Oct. 18 after she had received a call from Wallace regarding the Riviera ISD not submitting an appraisal board nomination.

She said that she told Wallace that she “had not received the packet of information for the nominations” from the appraisal district’s office, and had then reached out to Canales to see if Ricardo ISD had nominated Wallace “since we usually support the same candidate,” but was told that she also had not received the packet.

Unterbrink said in the email that she and finance director Jose Betancourt had reached out to Flores again on Oct. 18 and were told they had missed the deadline.

“You (Flores) explained that if you allowed an exception for us, you’d have to do the same for others,” she said.

According to Unterbrink’s email, Flores then said she would contact the appraisal district’s attorney “for guidance since the tax code stated that those dates were directory and not mandatory.”

On Oct. 25, according to the email, Flores contacted Unterbrink and told her that their attorney “advised (Flores) not to allow us to submit a nomination since it was after the Oct. 15 deadline.”

In both emails, the superintendents also questioned the timeline as it pertained to Kingsville ISD adopting and submitting their nominations to the appraisal district. 

KISD Board President Brian Coufal had presented the resolution to nominate individuals for the appraisal district’s board of directors at the district’s Oct. 15 regular meeting.

During that presentation, Coufal said “there was confusion last week in terms of a timeframe to get the appraisal district board nominations in.”

“And after discussions with them, we have through early tomorrow morning (Oct. 16) to get this resolution to them with the name of our nominee or nominees,” he said.

Both Unterbrink and Canales argued in their emails that since the KISD missed the Oct. 15 deadline, then there were only three “viable candidates” who should then appoint individuals for the remaining two positions. 

When asked about thie issue this week, Coufal said the appraisal district had called the Texas Attorney General’s office, and was told “that because of the Columbus Day holiday, as long as our resolution was approved on the 15th, we could submit it the following morning, which we did.”

Columbus Day was on Monday, Oct. 14, which was a school holiday for the Kingsville ISD.

During Tuesday’s phone interview, Unterbrink said she had also received a letter from attorney Joseph Longoria of Perdue Brandon Fielder Collins and Mott LLP representing the appraisal district on Oct. 30.

According to that letter, nominating notices were sent through the United States Postal Service on or about June 25. As for KISD’s nominations, Longoria said in the letter that the school board “met in a properly posted public meeting, deliberated this item and voted on its nominees prior to the expiration of the deadline.”

“Due to KISD’s compliance with the meeting and deliberation requirements, the resolution was sufficient to permit the district to place the nominees’ names on the ballot,” Longoria said.

As for Riviera ISD, Longoria said the nominee process “has been exhausted.” He also referenced Unterbrink’s Oct. 29 email in which she said Flores told her on Oct. 25 that her attorney advised the appraisal district to not allow them to submit a nomination.

“I can assure you that I did not give any such advice nor was any advice requested,” Longoria said in the letter. “I realize that this is an unfortunate situation for all parties and my client is implementing additional procedures to eliminate future occurrences.”

Flores said she never told Unterbrink that she could not submit a nomination.

“I told her that I could not stop her from having a meeting and submitting a nominee, but I would probably not put it on the ballot because it was late,” she said. “The timeframe that they got in contact with me was way after the deadline and they hadn’t even had a meeting yet.”

“It’s like any application that I take from a taxpayer,” she added. “I can never deny anybody from applying for something. But I certainly have to follow the law in the way I implement it or whether I approve or deny it, and I did tell her that.”

Unterbrink said the only reason she had asked to hold a special meeting to allow the Riviera ISD board to make a nomination was because she had never received the information packet from the appraisal district.

Flores said the packets were sent out “to all entities at the same time” on June 25.

“I can’t help if something happened in the mail,” she said. “All I can do is treat everybody the same and fairly.”

Flores said in the future, she will send the packets through certified mail.

With the ballots sent, the entities have until Dec. 15 to cast their votes for the nominees, who will serve a two-year term if elected.

Because the number of nominees matches that of the open seats, all five individuals nominated will serve starting in January regardless of voting results.

Anthony Ruiz can be contacted at aruiz@king-ranch.com or (361) 221-0251.

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