El Centro College in downtown Dallas. via Google Maps

Education

Dallas’ Community College District Can’t Issue $1.1 Billion In Bonds Because of a Lawsuit

The district has big plans. They've been on hold since May.

In May, voters overwhelmingly approved a $1.1 billion bond package for the Dallas County Community College District. Plans for those dollars are ambitious. Chancellor Joe May talked about an expansive downtown higher ed and innovation hub to tie together the district’s work with four-year universities and Dallas ISD high schools. The district will include downtown student housing and a new El Centro College campus in their plans. The new hub is expected to cost $535 million.

But those plans have screeched to a halt. Six months since the bond passed with 71.5 percent in favor, DCCCD hasn’t seen a penny. A lawsuit contesting the results of the election is now a road block in the way of the district’s plans. With ongoing litigation implying there’s even a chance the result could be reversed, the district can’t get approval to issue bonds.

That means the first set of projects—$200 million to $300 million toward planning and executing the downtown hub—is on hold indefinitely, DCCCD confirmed in an email this week.

“As long as the election contest suit is pending or until a final, non-appealable judicial order that does not overturn the election has been obtained, the district is unable to issue bonds or finance a public project(s),” reads the emailed statement. “The district will be able to issue bonds after the bond-related litigation is favorably concluded.”

Filed by former GOP Dallas County Sheriff candidate and self-proclaimed county election “watcher” Kirk Launius, the lawsuit includes an 18-page petition and more than 4,500 pages of evidence. Launius’ petition reads as an indictment of the entire Dallas County election process. It also could read, depending on your line of sight, as a cynical attempt to confuse the judicial system and stagnate the bond package. Launius says his intentions are pure.

The petition alleges discrepancies in the numbers on various pieces of county election documentation. It questions things like early voting rolls that show how many people voted at various locations. It protests an early voting roster. It includes audit logs it says it received from watchers at the Dallas County Central Counting Station. (The Dallas County Elections Department deferred questions about the ongoing litigation to the District Attorney’s office. We will update this story if the DA’s office responds.)

There are also affidavits from watchers who detail their observations on election night. Some of them are hardly noteworthy. For instance, Launius’ affidavit includes the drama surrounding his lost folding stool, for sitting. He says he lost time watching the polls while he was searching for it. It also says he and other watchers expressed concern on election night about the “‘sloppy’ manner in which the early vote flash memory cards had been left out on the table the night before, and the lack of security for the [Central Counting Station] and ballot room where the early voting paper ballots are stored, considering that there is only a 4-digit code lock on the door with a combination that we all know.”

It’s not always easy to follow the logic or language of the suit, let alone try to cross-reference it with the massive evidence document. Asked to describe in layman’s terms some of the most egregious violations over the phone, Launius repeatedly pointed back to the petition while avoiding substantive discussion of the case.

He said he’d been moved to act through his own experience as a candidate, as well as the 2006 HBO documentary Hacking Democracy and the made-for-television Hallmark film Battle of Athens. When pressed about the most important facts of his lawsuit, he said only that his suit proved “that there’s vulnerability.”

“I have grave concerns about the way these votes are handled in Dallas County elections,” he said.

Launius says donors have helped fund his suit but declined to specify who.

One person who is identified by name in the suit is Laura Pressley, a former Austin City Council candidate who started an organization that she says fights election misconduct. She once took a challenge of her own results to the state Supreme Court. (The high court rejected Pressley’s election challenge but reversed a lower court’s ruling that it was frivolous.) Pressley, too, remained vague about findings, instead answering specific questions by referring back to the petition. She offered that they’ve found enough things that are “potentially illegal and potentially irregular” to invalidate the results. She said there were “massive mathematical discrepancies.”

“It looks like a big problem,” she said. “We won’t know until the judge goes through all the evidence and we go through discovery and we go through asking the county for certain evidence. We’re in the beginning phases of it.”

The district, of course, hopes the saga is nearing an end. The case is currently set to go to non-jury trial in Dallas County on February 18.

The district says via email that although it’s never possible to predict how long litigation will take, “we are pushing for an early trial in these matters and are reasonably confident that the litigation will be resolved early next year.”

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