Following the posting of a 10-day eviction notice on its door, the American Legion Post #352 has filed a lawsuit against Blanco ISD protesting the eviction notice and the attempt by Blanco ISD to break a 99-year lease agreement with the Post.
According to the American Legion’s lawsuit, filed in the 33rd District Court by Blanco County attorneys Chelita and Tex Riley, superintendent Dr. Buck Ford met with representatives of the Post ‘several months ago’. At that time, the lawsuit says, Dr. Ford informed them of the school district’s desire to terminate the 99-year lease, and suggested that the district might be willing to provide the Post with a portable classroom, however, the Post says that they never received a written offer.
The week before Memorial Day, Dr. Ford told representatives with the Post that the district intended to move forward with breaking the lease. On August 29, the 10-day eviction notice was posted on the door to the Post.
The 99-year lease dates back to 1948, when the Post came to an agreement with the Blanco Rural High School District Number 1, and was a ground lease. The building that is currently there was built in 1948 by Post 352, at a cost of about $5,000. The building has been used by the Post ever since, and has also served as a classroom by the school district over the course of the last 65 years. The lease did not require payments to be made to the district by the Post. The lease allows for it to be broken by the district in the event that it is abandoned or not maintained. The lease is set to expire in 2047, 34 years from now.
In a press release from Blanco ISD, Dr. Ford asserts that they have made efforts to reach an agreement. The release cites that Blanco ISD’s best interests include the safety and security of their students and staff, and that they have the exclusive right to manage the use of their properties.
In addition, they mention the fact that the American Legion Post 352 has ‘enjoyed having rent-free access to a building on District property for 65 years”, a privilege, they say that no other community organization has.
The district also calls into question whether or not the lease is even legal. It is their belief, according to the release, that the 99-year lease is the equivalent of a gift of public funds and therefore is illegal and the lease invalid.
American Legion Post 352
On Tuesday, September 3, Post 352 filed their lawsuit in the 33rd District Court, at approximately 10:30 am. According to Attorney Chelita Riley, an emergency hearing was called before Judge Allan Garrett in order to secure a restraining order against the school, which would halt the impending eviction.
When the Plaintiffs met with Judge Garrett, the school district requested that a restraining order not be issued, according to Riley, and the two groups instead signed a Rule 11 agreement, which says that the defendants would cease the eviction process until the case could be heard. Daniel Burns, representing the district and Tex Riley, the Plaintiff, signed the agreement.
According to a press release from the American Legion, the ground lease is paid up.
"We had no choice but to defend our rights" stated Post Commander Ted Weeks. "Our local American Legion veterans have served during every war conflict from WWII to the current War on Terrorism, have diligently worked to support our community, and have been blindsided by this aggressive action. We have a 99-year lease on this property with 34 more years to run and we believe that the BISD trustees' actions are both legally and morally wrong. We have nowhere to go and have very limited funds. Many of the services provided by our Post to our veterans and to the community would be jeopardized if the Post were forced to vacate our post."
The lawsuit and press release also refer to suspected violation of the Open Meetings Act, alleging that no school board agenda has referenced discussions regarding any dealings with the American Legion Post 352.
According to the press release from the district, the lawsuit has been filed in federal district court in Austin, with Judge Sam Sparks. A court date has not been set for a hearing.