By ANTON RIECHER
Through a combination of election turnovers and a surprise resignation of a long time council member, half of the Devine City Council changed hands May 16 during and after a meeting that also aired details of discrepancies in the voter registration rolls that arose during the May 5th city election.
For Cory Thompson, the May 16th meeting marked the close of his mayoral administration after being unseated 502 to 107 in a landslide victory by Butch Cook.
“First of all I want to thank all of you for an incredible six years,” Thompson said. “Obviously it has been scary. It has been exhilarating. It’s been nauseating. It’s been enlightening. I have learned a lot. It’s definitely had its ups and downs.”
He also said he wished Mayor Cook all the best as he takes over the reins of the city. “This is not an easy job,” Thompson said. “In the past six years I have found the burden of expectations to be much greater than the actual job. I want to wish Mayor Cook safe travels as he navigates the treacherous seas of expectation.”
The May 16th meeting saw the departure of District 2 council member Angela Pichardo after two years in office, defeated in a 47-42 race won by Michael Hernandez.
Also departing, at the end of the meeting after announcing his resignation was District 3 council member David Espinosa, citing reasons of health.
Pichardo, in her closing remarks, said she wanted to thank everyone.
“We worked really hard,” she said. “We accomplished a lot. The overall goal is for the betterment of the citizens of Devine. We fought some hard battles and we won many.”
Espinosa, quoting from a letter of resignation submitted on May 5 (effective May 16), described his decision to step down as a “bittersweet moment.”
“Thank you for all the support throughout the years,” he said. “I am grateful for the opportunity I have been given to represent District 5 by the citizens. I hope I was able to make some contribution to our community. I was honored to be part of the team that made a big difference to our city.”
Espinosa voted and participated in the entire meeting, stepping down at the end.
His recommendation to appoint replacement during the same meeting that his resignation was announced drew concern.
“I greatly respect the work that councilman Espinosa has done for the city,” Mayor Cook said. “He has been a long standing member of the city council and he has a lot to offer. I mean that with all sincerity.”
However, acting immediately to replace Espinosa eliminates any chance that others interested in the job might step forward to be considered, Cook said.
“If we proceed to appoint a replacement for councilman Espinosa this evening, whether recommended by him or anyone else, I think it would be one of the worst things we can do because it constitutes a total lack of transparency.”
Mayor Cook pointed to precedence established when District 5 council member Debbie Randall was appointed and time had been given for others to volunteer for the position and a committee reviewed both candidates. (Randall took Thompson’s seat in District 5 after Thompson was appointed Mayor after the resignation of Mayor Bill Herring in July 2019).
Randall cited another precedence in the appointment of Rufino Vega to replace former District 1 council member David Valdez without notifying the public beforehand.
Hernandez pointed out that Espinosa had run unopposed.
Citizen Frances Navarro spoke up and complimented how respected David Espinosa was and suggested that perhaps no one wanted to run against him out of respect, but that now there might be others interested in the council seat.
Regardless, Randall moved to accept Espinosa’s recommendation to appoint Stacy Pyron, whose name was withheld until late in the discussion.
“My feeling is the person who is stepping down should be able to recommend someone because he was voted in and he wants someone like minded to vote like he has,” Randall said.
With a second by Hernandez, in his first official action after replacing Pichardo, the council voted 4-1 in favor of accepting Espinosa’s recommendation of Stacy Pyron. District 4 council member Josh Ritchey voted against the appointment.
Ritchey’s own motion to conduct a special meeting to allow others interested in the opening to come forward died for the lack of a second.
Upon the decision of the council, Mayor Cook said he would “like it noted that I strongly object. This is not transparency”. He stated that The Devine News is our official newspaper and time should have been given for it to be published and the public notified of the opportunity officially. He noted that a council member’s social media account is not the city’s official account, they are personal.
Prior to the vote, Pyron took the podium after her introduction by Espinosa to introduce herself to the council.
“I graduated Devine High School in 2004 during which time I was also highly involved in the community,” Pyron said. “We used to help out in the summer when the library would have their summer reading program.”
As Fall Festival Queen in 2002, Pyron received a scholarship that she put to use in earning her degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio in speech communications. She has also worked four years in the city library since then.
“My passion in life is really connecting with people,” Pyron said, citing one of the skills that will make her a valuable asset to the council.
Voter list causes election mistakes
Further controversy arose regarding the voter registration card errors that could have impacted the District 2 race. During the official canvass of the May 5th election results, election judge Glenda Allen made a lengthy presentation on issues related to an incorrect voter registration list provided by the county.
“Once we caught it and (Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez) caught it right away, thank goodness, she made all the phone calls that she needed to make and then she and Denise spent the next day and a half, maybe two, going through each address and every district for every citizen that we had listed.”
More than 200 mistakes were found in the registration list provided by the county, Allen said. However, only 6 of those errors did directly affect the District 2 council race, which was a very close race with a difference of only 5 votes (Hernandez v Pichardo).
Pichardo said she was contacted by residents who said they were not allowed to vote in District 2.
“So that brought us some concern as to the results of the election, a couple of questionable acts that occurred,” she said. “But, again, we understand or at least I understand you were following protocol and were instructed by individuals.”
Allen said that most of the errors found involved District 3 voters listed in District 5.
“Typically what happens when we come in for our training is if we’re lucky enough people bring in their voter registration,” Allen said. “Most people do not and they don’t have to. They can just bring their driver’s license or a photo ID. We verify that with the voter registration list.”
Usually, if a voter is missing from the list, it indicates that they have recently moved either in the district, city or county, she said. It is then a matter of contacting county officials in Hondo for direction. The voter fills out a statement of residency and is then allowed to vote in their previous district.
“We really do try to be as efficient as possible when it comes to the voting process because we want everybody to vote,” Allen said. “We want it to be a fair election.”
Pichardo said she wanted to make sure that the correct protocol is observed going forward.
“We definitely wish to keep that trustworthiness in the election process for the City of Devine. So with these questionable protocols it has put a red mark on it,” she said.
The council voted 4-1 to accept the canvass of the election with Pichardo opposing the action.
New Zoning Class proposed
In other business no action was taken on a proposal by District 4 council member Josh Ritchey to create a new zoning classification for the community north of Colonial Parkway, so that would be more broadly favorable to small business and residents on the south of Colonial Parkway in our farming community.
He suggested that people who want to have animals for their 4H or FFA projects or raise or grow some food for their family should be able to do so, especially in these economic times. Those who live on Zig Zag and have land to farm should not have to go by the same fence and animals rules as those who live around a golf course he suggested.
“Current policy is postured toward looking like an HOA,” Ritchey said. “We are a rural farming community. Many people moved here for that reason.”
Randall had a different view of the situation saying, “We are not a farming community. We are a City”.
City Attorney Thomas Cate said that the idea would be more properly presented to the planning and zoning commission for consideration.
Sarah Espionsa appointed to Parks & Rec. Board
On a motion by District 1 council member Rufino Vega, seconded by Espinosa, Sarah Espinosa was appointed to serve in the District 1 seat for the parks and recreation advisory board and the emergency management advisory board.
Herring named to Planning and Zoning Comm.
On the nomination of Mayor Cook, Scott Herring was named to the planning and zoning commission to replace the resigning Diane Austin.
Briscoe Park slide replacement $9,537
The council voted 3-2 to approve $9,537 for the purchase and installation of a new playground spiral slide at Briscoe City Park and the removal of the existing one that has had a small crack near the bottom for several years.
Talk about researching other options to allow for something more suitable to attract more than toddlers was mentioned to help encourage the whole family to participate in the outing.
It was mentioned that around $24,000 is in the parks budget currently and that there are two parks, not just the Briscoe Park that has needs, the Curcio Park on the other side of town has needs too.
New $5,500 valve for Devine Drive
Council also approved a budget amendment of $5,500 to allow the installation of an inserter valve on Devine Drive.
Public Works Director Pete Sanchez said the valve is needed to permit workers to shut down water service to the area if needed. The valve is being installed as a “live tap” and will not involve any service disruption.
The new valve would allow for service to be worked on when needed without affecting others parts of the area.
Experience preferred instead of required for City Admin
Following a closed executive session the council voted to change the requirements for the city administrator opening to ask for two to three years of experience “preferred”. It had previously said “required”, and this is an effort to open up the position to more possible candidates. The motion by Randall was seconded by Espinosa.
Sworn in after meeting
Attorney Tom Cate swore in new Parks and Rec board member Sarah Espinosa and new councilwoman Stacy Pyron after the meeting.