The Devine City Council is down to three sitting representatives following the recent resignations of District 1 Councilman David Valdez and District 4 Councilwoman Jennifer Schott.
Council accepted Valdez’s resignation, which came via a letter dated November 19, 2019, during the Special meeting held last Tuesday, January 14.
Mayor Cory Thompson announced Schott’s resignation on his political Facebook page on Thursday, Jan. 16.
Council was scheduled to take formal action on Schott’s resignation during the Regular meeting on press night on Tuesday, Jan. 21, and to discuss ordering a General Election on Saturday, May 2 for Mayor and the District 1, 3, 4, and 5 Council seats.
In his resignation letter, Valdez recommended that Council appoint Refugio Vega to the District 1 seat, which Council took under consideration at the Jan. 14 meeting.
District 5 Councilwoman Debra Randall made a motion to postpone appointing anyone to the District 1 seat.
“Council needs to know how the position was advertised – social media, local newspaper, word of mouth – how many people have responded,” Randall said. “And I feel we should have more than one person to consider. Was a questionnaire given to the respondent to complete? If so, will Council get one of those to review each respondent? Has the respondent been active in any City activities, and will Council be able to interview the respondents? And from the letter, Mr. Valdez hasn’t given a reasoning why he decided on [Vega], so I motion that we postpone till we have all that information.”
After Schott seconded the motion, District 2 Councilman Steve Lopez questioned the need to go through the process outlined by Randall.
“I’m sorry, but it was four meetings that you put off appointing me because of all exactly what I said,” Randall said. “I took that verbatim from the notes from the previous meetings. So I’m just saying, you set a precedent, and I’m thinking that is how we have to run it then because that’s how it was done for me.”
District 3 Councilman David Espinosa agreed with Randall, citing the need for more time to spread the word about the vacancy and possibly attract other interested parties.
Vega addressed Council, explaining that he worked for the City around a decade ago and is currently the assistant manager at West Texas Gas.
“Just like to get involved with the community and help out,” Vega said, adding that he’s been a Devine resident for around 22 years.
The Randall-Schott motion to postpone appointing anyone to the District 1 seat passed 3-1 over Lopez’s objection.
Council also agreed to advertise the District 1 Council seat and District 4 Parks Board seat in The Devine News (see separate “City of Devine seeks applicants” article) for at least two weeks.
During the course of discussion about the District 1 vacancy, Lopez said he had received phone calls alleging that Schott recently sold her home in District 4, and called for a point of order regarding her eligibility to vote.
Section 22.008(b) of the Texas Local Government Code states, “If a member of the governing body changes the member’s place of residence to a location outside the corporate boundaries of the municipality, the member is automatically disqualified from holding the member’s office and the office is considered vacant.”
However, City Attorney Tom Cate said the statute is not self-enacting.
“So the proper way to go about that would first be to investigate the facts to see if that actually has occurred,” Cate said. “And if that’s the case, then Jennifer can make the decision whether or not she agrees with the facts that are established. And if not, then someone can file a complaint with the District Attorney’s office, and the District Attorney can investigate that. Because it’s not self-enacting, that’s the procedure that we’d have to follow.
“Until the time that it is determined she’s not eligible, that her seat is vacant, she can still sit here, and the Council, as a body, you cannot remove her.”
In her resignation letter posted by Thompson on Jan. 16, two days after the Special meeting, Schott confirmed that she recently bought property outside the City limits but that she has been residing in a home inside District 4 while her new property is remodeled in the hopes that she could continue to serve on Council until May, when her seat is up for re-election.
“Last night it was brought to my attention that there are other council members who would prefer to not see me carry this out,” Schott wrote. “Their opposition is probably due to the fact that we have disagreed with many issues brought before us.”
By Marly Davis