District 5 seat remains vacant after Council postpones decision

The City of Devine’s District 5 City Council seat is still open after Council members unanimously decided to postpone a decision on who to appoint during the Special meeting held last Tuesday, August 27.
Mayor Cory Thompson, who vacated the District 5 seat when he was appointed to his current position on July 19, recommended Parks Board Chairman Debra Randall to fill the empty position, citing her familiarity with grants and the issues facing the City.
“Since we are picking up middle of a cycle, the election cycle, I think that she would be the best candidate for the job,” Thompson said.
As mayor, Thompson can make recommendations to Council, but can’t make a motion or provide a second on an agenda item. He can only vote in the event of a tie.
District 2 Councilman Steve Lopez said that he had received a phone call that afternoon from George Valdemar, whom Thompson had also considered for the District 5 position and who was concerned with the recommendation process.
That process began with a list of 13 questions that Thompson provided to District 5 residents who expressed interest in the vacant Council seat. Only Randall and Valdemar returned completed questionnaires, which Thompson then stripped of identifying information before dispersing to nine people he said were involved with his initial election in May 2017 and who have become friends. Those nine people favored Randall eight to one, and after sitting on that feedback to see whether Randall or Valdemar would attend Council meetings, Thompson gave the nod to Randall.

George Valdemar addressed Council with concerns over the process of choosing someone to appoint to the vacant District 5 seat.

Valdemar noted that the District 5 seat had been vacant over 30 days.
“I guess really what I want to understand is that process that you went through,” Valdemar said. “Is that documented? Or is that something that was developed at all?”
“There was no process that was prescribed when I took position of the mayor,” Thompson replied.
Valdemar pointed out that there have been Council meetings regarding the golf course and the budget since the District 5 seat was vacated.
“So to me, and in my perspective, that should have been priority one of getting that seat filled, from day one,” Valdemar said. “I know you’re working on some data for the golf course, but to me, especially District 5 since we sit so close to the golf course, it’s critical to have that voice for the residents of District 5.”
Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez asked City Attorney Tom Cate about the timeline for appointing someone to the seat.
“There is no timeline,” Cate said. “It’s up to the Council…If the Council wants to leave the seat empty, they can leave it empty until the next election.”
Thompson and the person ultimately chosen to fill the District 5 seat will hold their positions until May 2020, when the City’s next elections are held. Both spots will be up for re-election for the final year of the two-year terms that Thompson and former mayor Bill Herring won this past May.
The positions will then be up for election for full two-year terms in May 2021.
District 3 Councilman David Espinosa said he was under the impression that Thompson planned to present multiple people as options for the seat and that Council would choose from that pool.
“People in my district need to make that decision,” Thompson said, adding that if the residents he shared the questionnaires with had been split between Randall and Valdemar, he would have asked the Council’s opinion. “But it was not close.”
Valdemar then asked for clarification on who Thompson’s nomination was coming from.
“Who made the selection, Cory, was it Council or the group that you put together?” Valdemar asked.
Thompson said he asked people in District 5 for their opinions.
“And no, they did not make that selection,” Thompson said. “I had to make the selection at the end of the day.”
“Okay, well, I guess I’m hearing two different scenarios,” Valdemar said, addressing Cate. “I thought you were saying Council will make that selection.”

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Cate repeated that Council would appoint someone to the position, and Espinosa said that Thompson was making a recommendation.
“That’s all I can do,” Thompson said. “Remember, whenever I took this job, I told you all that I would recommend somebody who was like myself. And y’all said okay.”
District 4 Councilwoman Jennifer Schott agreed that Thompson had been upfront about his plan to recommend someone who would vote like him to fill the District 5 seat.
“Then I guess he went to you guys [Randall and Valdemar] and asked the questionnaire, and then I’m not sure about that process,” Schott said.
“I’m just saying that that’s a formal, documented process within the City that’s unbiased and fair, I’m good with it,” Valdemar said. “But that’s why I want to ask the question, is that a fair process?”
Schott then asked Cate to once again clarify the process of filling a vacated Council seat, who repeated that it was up to Council to appoint someone.
“And so, just like right now, Cory is recommending someone, and the Council can vote on that person,” Cate said.
Lopez asked if that meant someone on the Council could nominate Valdemar, and Cate said yes.
“But if we’re going to go that route, then I would like to see the questionnaires,” Schott said.
“I think it’s fair that we all see all of them,” Espinosa agreed.
Cate reiterated that appointing someone to the District 5 seat was an agenda item.
“Just like any other agenda item, a person can make a motion under this agenda item to appoint a Councilperson to district number five seat,” Cate said. “Of course, you’d have to have a second to that motion, and then you would vote on it.”
Schott said that she knew Randall, who attends Council meetings and with whom she served on the Parks Board before her own election to the District 4 seat, and could make an educated decision on Randall if she were nominated.
“I can’t put my vote on someone that I do not even know,” Schott said, referencing Valdemar.
Espinosa made a motion to postpone a decision until Council received copies of the completed questionnaires.
“So we can make a decision on these candidates promptly, as soon as we possibly can, so we can get this issue settled,” Espinosa said.
Schott provided the second for Espinosa’s motion, which Lopez voted in favor of and passed 3-0.
District 1 Councilman David Valdez was absent.
The District 5 seat was not on the agenda of the Special meeting scheduled for press night on Tuesday, September 3.
The next Regular Council meeting is set for Sept. 17.
By Marly Davis
Staff Writer