A district judge has ordered a special election in Floresville for May 5 and blocked the city council from voting on any city business until then. However, his ruling has been temporarily stayed by an injunction, leaving the city’s leadership in limbo.
State District Judge Lynn Ellison ruled Friday that the South Texas city council broke the law last year by canceling a regularly scheduled November election. He said that because the election was not held, three of the council’s five members who were up for re-election have run out of their proper terms.
Because there was no election, the two-year terms of council members Gloria Morales Cantu and Juan Ortiz ended on Nov. 5, Ellison said in his ruling.Ellison’s ruling also voided the Jan. 13 appointment of Jade Jimenez to take the place of her father, the third council member who had been up for re-election. Gerard Jimenez died in an automobile crash Jan. 6.
Cantu, Ortiz and Jade Jimenez are eligible to run for council seats in the special election.
Ellison denied a plea by attorneys for the city, including the council majority, to keep the judge’s ruling from taking immediate effect.
But on Monday, a panel of three judges with the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio issued a temporary injunction blocking all of the actions from taking immediate effect until the city’s appeal can be heard. No date was set for the appeal hearing.
A call to the city’s attorneys, Jose Garza and Martin Golando, requesting comment was not returned.
The judgment was a win for Mayor Cissy Gonzalez-Dippel, who filed suit against her own city because she thought the council decision to cancel the November election and move it to May violated a 2017 change in the Texas Election Code that bars municipalities from moving their local election dates.
Gonzalez-Dippel said Monday her satisfaction has been tempered by the anger of some residents and city officials who say Ellison’s decision has upended business at city hall. The council will have to delay action on choosing a contractor for a roughly $300,000 street and sidewalk project, Gonzalez-Dippel said.
Parents of Little League players took to social media to complain that their season, scheduled to begin this Saturday, could be disrupted because their league’s contract with the city has not been signed. Gonzalez-Dippel assured them that Ellison’s ruling allows the city manager to sign contracts under $25,000 without a council vote.
“I’ve had people tell me I didn’t have to do this, but I can sleep at night,” Gonzalez-Dippel told The Texas Monitor. “I’m disappointed we had to do this, but I couldn’t, in good conscience, represent a city when they were doing something illegal.”
Gonzalez-Dippel said she intends to review the actions of City Attorney Sylvia Rodriguez, who provided legal advice to the council before it scheduled a special meeting with a single agenda item last July 17, to cancel the fall election.
Evidence provided to Ellison during the hearing Friday in Floresville by Art Martinez de Vara, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the mayor, established that Rodriguez had said publicly she thought moving the local election to May was illegal.
At the special meeting, however, the five-member council and Gonzalez-Dippel met with Rodriguez in a closed session, emerged from the meeting, and without public discussion voted unanimously to cancel the November election. The mayor objected, but by Floresville city charter she is not allowed to vote.
Wilson County Attorney Tom Caldwell sent a letter to City Manager Henrietta Turner eight days later saying that not only did he think the council decision violated state law but its closed session with Rodriguez violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Gonzalez-Dippel and David Johns, Nick Nissen and Paul Sack — who had filed to run in the three council districts in November — filed suit in early December. The suit also names council incumbents Marissa Ximenez and Gloria Martinez as defendants because they voted to cancel the election. Their terms expire this November.
Ellison’s ruling nullifies the council’s vote to move the election. City elections had been held in November since 2011, to encourage higher voter turnout. Prior to that, elections had been held in May.
Ellison also ordered the city to pay the plaintiff’s legal expenses.
“I was driven to action by ill-advised decisions of our city council,” Gonzalez-Dippel said. “Our citizens deserve better.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].
Editor’s note: Art Martinez de Vara has done legal work for The Texas Monitor.