District Judge Lynn Ellison on Friday is expected to consider whether the Floresville City Council violated state law when it canceled the town’s Nov. 4 election.
The council canceled the election last July. Then on Jan. 13 the council approved setting a new date — May 2 — for the election for three council positions.
The lawsuit before Ellison, filed by Floresville Mayor Cissy Gonzalez-Dippel, challenges the resetting of the date because when that vote was taken, two council members who voted to approve it did so months after their terms had legally expired.
In an added twist, the council on the same date appointed Jade Jimenez to take the place of her father, Gerard Jimenez, a third council member whose term expired in November and who was killed in an automobile crash Jan. 6.
Gonzalez-Dippel is joined in the lawsuit by David Johns, Nick Nissen and Paul Sack, who argue they were illegally deprived of their challenges for the three council seats that would have been decided Nov. 4. They had filed to run as candidates for those seats.
Ellison will hear the suit in Floresville, the seat of Wilson County in south Texas. Should he rule in Gonzalez-Dippel’s favor, he could also order Floresville to hold a special election sooner than the May date selected by the council.
Gonzalez-Dippel told The Texas Monitor this week that a special election is needed as soon as possible because a council majority continues to meet and make decisions for the city without voter approval, because of the participation of council members who are serving past the end of their elected terms. By city charter, Gonzalez-Dippel takes part in all city meetings, public and private, but is not allowed to vote on anything, including the decision to cancel the November election.
“I don’t take any pleasure in this. It’s draining and it’s expensive,” Gonzalez-Dippel said. “We have done everything we can to bring this situation to light, not out of vindictiveness, but because it’s right.”
As they have since before the Nov. 4 election date, other elected officials and Sylvia Rodriguez, the city attorney, have remained silent about the suit, declining to return the contacts made by The Texas Monitor requesting comment.
Attorney Art Martinez de Vara filed the lawsuit on behalf of Gonzalez-Dippel and the others in early December. The suit alleges the council violated the Texas Election Code section barring municipalities from moving their local election dates. That prohibition was added to the code in 2017
The suit as filed asked Ellison to block the majority — the late Jimenez, Gloria Cantu, Gloria Morales and Juan Ortiz — from taking part in council meetings until a special election can be held. The suit also names Marissa Ximenez and Gloria Martinez, whose terms do not expire until November 2020, as having taken part in the vote to cancel the election.
That July 17 vote, at a special meeting, overturned a 2011 city council decision to move the city election date to the first Tuesday in November to coincide with state and national elections. Like many small cities that made the change, Floresville’s city charter originally called for a local election on the first Tuesday in May.
Gonzalez-Dippel complained the vote was taken without public discussion and following a closed session that she participated in with the city attorney and the council.
While the state election code is clear about the prohibition on changing election dates, it does not say what, if any, sanctions an elected body faces for violating the law. When consulting with officials with the Elections Division of the Texas Secretary of State’s office Gonzalez-Dippel said she was told the setting of a date for a new election would trigger the violation of the law.
“We’re prepared to do whatever the judge decides,” she said.
Editor’s note: Attorney Art Martinez de Vara has done legal work for The Texas Monitor.
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].