In a rebuke of one of its most consistent critics, the city of Kerrville issued a pointed statement about the decision to hold the municipal election in May.
The critic — George Baroody — repeatedly argued that the city was violating its charter and state law by having the election in May — the usual time when cities across Texas hold municipal elections. Baroody had support in this quest from Place 1 Councilman Roman Garcia, who motioned Tuesday to move the election from May to November.
The Texas Secretary of State's Office clarified the matter further, elaborating on a raft of decisions coming from its office and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. At the heart of the matter, one ignored by Baroody and Garcia, was Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order in March of 2020 to delay municipal elections in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Postponing an election is not a permanent move,'' the Secretary of State's office told the city. "The governor's proclamation has the effect of postponing an election, but it is not a permanent move. The result is that [a city's] current officeholders will be holdovers until the next election occurs. Your newly-elected officeholders in November will have a shorter term. Their next election will return back to the May date."
Baroody and Garcia alluded to a letter from the Secretary of State office during Tuesday's meeting but provided no context to what the letter said. The central crux of their argument was that the city must follow a provision in the city charter that states elected officials must serve two years.
If the election had moved to November, Mayor Bill Blackburn and Place 3 City Councilwoman Judy Eychner would have served more than two years — meaning the final six months would have been unelected. The only person shorted in this discussion was Place 4 City Councilwoman Brenda Hughes, whose term will be shortened by six months due to Abbott's executive orders.
In addition, there's a state law in place that city's had until 2016 to move their elections to November. While there's no mention of specific election dates in the city charter, the city's longstanding practice of having its municipal election in May since 1988 locked it into the date when the law went into effect.
This battle has been simmering between Baroody, Garcia, and the City Council for some time. It was amplified on Tuesday night by City Council candidate Katy Chapman-Hanna, who said the election should be moved and urged the Council to "follow the law."
Paxton's involvement centered on the city of Round Rock, which wanted to delay its November 2020 election to May 2021 — using a similar argument that Baroody made. Paxton said Round Rock had no authority to move its election due to the unique circumstances of Abbott's order.
In November, Garcia exchanged words with City Attorney Mike Hayes over this issue during a break in the meeting.
"I don't understand how we can have an election in May when the terms start, by charter is when they're elected and duly qualified," Garcia said during the Nov. 9 meeting. "That was in November. So, that's the start of the term. The charter also provides the term is two years. So, how can we go and say we're going to have it in May instead of November?"
At that point in the meeting, Hayes asked the City Council if they wanted to go into executive session to hear his legal advice. The Council declined.
However, Garcia continued to insist that the city follow the charter. After that effort failed, Mayor Bill Blackburn called for a recess and Hayes and Garcia exchanged words during this point in the meeting.