Testimony begins in former TSC president’s lawsuit
BROWNSVILLE - Former Texas Southmost College president Lily Tercero took the stand Monday afternoon in the first day of a civil trial in federal court resulting from a lawsuit she filed against the college alleging that she was fired in a sham hearing.
“ I just felt that it was very unfair,” Tercero said of a Sept. 19, 2016, public hearing where the Board of Trustees fired her after deliberating in closed session for 41 minutes.
Tercero, who sometimes softly cried during the beginning of her testimony, told her attorney Richard A. Illmer that she filed the lawsuit because she wanted to share her side of the story and because she felt the board’s accusations were unfounded and malicious.
TSC trustees fired Tercero for failing to obtain windstorm insurance with board approval and in compliance with state law; for allowing TSC checks to be stamped with signatures of people who were no longer trustees; for failing to timely search and fill the position of vice president for finance and administration; for failing to inform the board of the ailing nursing program and its pending suspension; for refusing a board member’s request that he personally sign and review checks in the amount of $10,000 or more and for not complying with a request for information sought by another board member.
At issue for Tercero is also the remainder of a three-year contract with TSC approved by the college’s board of trustees in May 2016 for an annual salary of $228,228 that would have expired on May 1, 2019.
According to Illmer, who showed a panel of eight jurors a copy of the contract during opening arguments, TSC and Tercero agreed that she could be fired at any time with or without cause. However, if TSC fired Tercero without cause, the college would be required to pay her on a monthly basis for the remainder of her contract unless she accepted a lump sum, according to Illmer.
The case is entirely about TSC manufacturing cause to fire her so that they wouldn’t have to pay her, Illmer said.
The venue to do this was executed through what Tercero has alleged was a pre-determined sham hearing to fire her.
“ It was all a pretext. They were looking to fire her,” Illmer said.
Tercero’s termination came just a few months after several trustees were voted out, creating a new majority on the board headed by Chair Adela Garza, who Illmer said was the only trustee who voted against renewing Tercero’s contract in May 2016.
TSC’s attorney, Eduardo G. Garza, used his opening argument to tell the jurors that the college had good cause to fire Tercero for deliberately and recklessly exceeding her authority and failing to follow through on directives from trustees.
Eduardo Garza also challenged Tercero’s allegation that she was fired during a sham hearing, telling jurors that some trustees did have information and concerns about Tercero, which is why the board suspended her and granted her request for a public hearing.
“ If the decision was made up front like has been represented, why did they deliberate for 41 minutes,” Garza asked.
TSC’s attorney told jurors that they will hear evidence showing Tercero hid from trustees that she had been aware for at least three years that the college’s nursing program was on a crash course for suspension.
Eduardo Garza also told jurors that the evidence will show that Tercero didn’t follow certain laws, in particular with the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, and exceeded her authority when she renewed that insurance without bringing a request for proposals to the board or getting its permission to renew the insurance.
According to attorney Garza, there is ample evidence to show the jurors that TSC had every reason to fire Tercero.
“ It wasn’t because the college thought she was evil,” Eduardo Garza said.
Court documents indicate the trial is anticipated to last four to five days.