A Special Devine City Council meeting scheduled for February 11 and the Regular monthly meeting scheduled for Feb. 18 were canceled due to a lack of quorum.
The Council is down to just three sitting members following the resignations of former District 1 Councilman David Valdez and former District 4 Councilwoman Jennifer Schott.
State law requires a majority of Council members be present in order to form a quorum at Regular meetings. Because the Council consists of five seats, all of the current members – District 2 Councilman Steve Lopez, District 3 Councilman David Espinosa, and District 5 Councilwoman Debra Randall – must be present for a quorum.
The Feb. 18 Regular meeting was canceled because one of the Council members was unable to attend.
The presence of Mayor Cory Thompson, who votes only in the event of a tie, does not count towards the establishment of a quorum.
Section 22.031 of the Texas Local Government Code states, “…at a called meeting or at a meeting to consider the imposition of taxes, two-thirds of the number of aldermen established by that section constitutes a quorum unless provided otherwise.”
In a five-person Council, two-thirds of the members is rounded up to four representatives, not down to three.
According to Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez, the Feb. 11 Special meeting was canceled because of uncertainty over how that statute applies to a five-person Council with two vacancies.
“We’ve never had two vacancies before, since I’ve been here,” Rodriguez said.
The vacancies also call into question the ability to call Emergency meetings, which according to Texas Government Code Section 551.045(b) can be called due to “an imminent threat to public health and safety” or “a reasonably unforeseeable situation,” which includes things like natural disasters, epidemics, and a number of different threats or civil disruptions.
Under normal circumstances, any cost over $50,000 must be approved by Council. However, Rodriguez said that according to City Attorney Tom Cate, if an emergency arises, she has the authority to make decisions that Council must then ratify at the next Regular meeting, because City operations can’t cease to function.
Additionally, Section 22.010(d) of the Texas Local Government Code states, “If two or more vacancies on the governing body exist at the same time, a special election shall be ordered to fill the vacancies.”
This means that the District 1 and District 4 seats will remain vacant until May 19, the date of the first Regular meeting after the General Election on May 2.
Valdez’s resignation came via a letter dated November 19, 2019, and was accepted at a Special meeting held on January 14, prior to Schott’s resignation.
In his resignation letter, Valdez recommended that Council appoint Rufino Vega to the District 1 seat, but a Randall-Schott motion to postpone appointing anyone until the vacancy had been publicized passed 3-1 over Lopez’s objection.
Schott’s letter of resignation was posted by Thompson on his political Facebook page on Jan. 16 and accepted at the Regular meeting on Jan. 21, leaving Council with the two vacancies that must remain until filled via the upcoming election.
Vega was the sole resident to file for the District 1 seat.
The next Regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 17 at 6:00 pm.
By Marly Davis