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Castle Hills council soldiers on, despite troubles but special election looms NOV. 5

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CASTLE HILLS — The city is preparing for a new budget year and a special election, but not without enduring unresolved, often tense debates among its leaders.

At press time, two residents had filed for the Nov. 5 special election to fill what the city calls vacant City Council places 1 and 3.

Joe Izbrand, a former zoning commissioner, is running for Place 1. Attorney Kurt May is  running for Place 3.

Place 1 representative Clyde “Skip” McCormick announced his resignation in August, midway through his first term in office. He citied personal reasons.

The city continues to deem as unqualified Sylvia Gonzalez, the Place 3 winner in last May’s election.

City officials said she was incorrectly sworn into office by Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, someone they claim is technically unqualified to administer an official oath to a municipal officeholder.

Gonzalez, along with council members Lesley Wenger and Mark Sanderson, filed a lawsuit against the city in an effort to hold onto the Place 3 seat.

Gonzalez and her fellow plaintiffs were granted a temporary restraining order and requested another one.

Subsequently, the city was dropped as a defendant, but Mayor JR Treviño, City Secretary Melissa Gonzalez and City Attorney Marc Schnall all were added as defendants in that suit.

While those lawsuits remained open as of early September, Gonzalez saw the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office dismiss a tampering charge against her.

City police arrested Gonzalez in July, claiming she briefly swiped from Trevino’s binder a set of street repair petitions prior to a council meeting.

According to police, another resident alleged Gonzalez visited her home seeking her signature on a petition, but misled her on the nature of the drive.

Back at City Hall, Wenger unsuccessfully tried Aug. 13 to have the council declare Gonzalez qualified to remain in the Place 3 post. Wenger said the city had statutory authority to do so, adding there’s no precedent and the city had to move forward.

“Everyone who has looked at this says there’s no case law in this instance,” she added.

Some city leaders identified language in the state Constitution that allows the previous qualified officeholder to occupy the position until a successor is “duly qualified.”

Schnall said the last Place 3 council member, Amy McLin, is “obligated” to fill the seat so  city government can proceed with normal operations, such as developing a budget for new fiscal year 2020.

McLin narrowly lost to Gonzalez on the May ballot. She began occupying the Place 3 seat Aug. 13.

Using this “holdover” language in state law, the city has McCormick staying in the Place 1 seat until voters determine his replacement in November.

Wenger said she and Gregory were sworn into office by then-former Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau. She added Pamerleau received guidance from the state that it was fine to administer the oath.

But Schnall replied, in his research, the state provided no such direction.

“Qualifying for (public) office includes qualifying to take the oath of office and that’s what the problem is here,” Schnall added.

McCormick — who at the time remained on the council — warned his colleagues not to entertain Wenger’s motion: “It may result in an illegal result, an intent to violate state law. It’s an improper vote for you to support as mayor, it’s an improper vote for you to make as members of this council.”

Sanderson and Wenger voted to declare Gonzalez qualified to remain in Place 3. McCormick voted no.

Gregory then voted no. Because McLin was not allowed to vote, Treviño broke the 2-2 tie and voted no.

Wenger has had to overcome her own legal troubles. Police in July charged her with tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, and fraudulent use or possession of identification information in a reported effort to oust City Manager Ryan Rapelye.

The case against Wenger was dropped in late August.

In addition, six residents went to court earlier this summer to file their own petition against Wenger and Gonzalez, claiming both individuals were subject to removal for failing to comply with Texas open meeting and public information laws.

At press time, the legal action was still pending.

Even with all of these developments, the council is forging ahead with other city business.

City leaders are expected to adopt a new budget and property tax rate Sept. 24, six days before the start of FY 2020.

The city proposed keeping the current property tax rate of 50.1 cents per $100 valuation. Given rising appraisals, the city projects a 5.1 percent revenue increase.

The new $7.1 million general fund budget would include continuing two partially funded positions — permit clerk and finance clerk — and appropriating them as full-time.

There’s a $35,000 increase for street maintenance to cover more projects, including working with the North East Independent School District on a second phase of sidewalks along Honeysuckle Lane and Lemonwood Drive by an elementary school.

Current projects under consideration for potential funding in FY 2020 include a citywide seal coat project, road and drainage improvements in the Banyan/Glentower watershed, and drainage fixes on Mimosa/Krameria streets to West Avenue.

The new budget allocates $30,000 from the Community Infrastructure Economic Development fund on more City Hall improvements, including audio/visual upgrades in the council/courtroom chambers.

The budget also sets aside $25,000 for a future fire vehicle purchase, $50,000 for a public works vehicle, and a 2 percent cost of living adjustment for all employees.

Upheavals at City Hall have left many residents dismayed. Some are still unhappy with a decision to push public comments to the end of meetings.

Others urged council members to stop bickering and be more civil.

“What’s working now is unacceptable,” resident Jason Brayden said. “I work in situations where children’s lives are at stake every single day and I have been able to act better, people there have acted better, than anything I’ve seen here.”

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