Donna mayoral candidate deemed ineligible fires back at city

Ernesto Lugo has blamed a “political ploy” for the city of Donna deeming him ineligible to seek the mayoral seat.

Although his name will remain on the November ballot, the city said Lugo is “administratively ineligible” to seek office after Donna City Secretary Laura Balderama received a complaint Wednesday that questioned his residency, according to a city news release.

“This is just an obstruction that the city is throwing at me right now to try to, I guess, get me to withdraw,” Lugo said. “And that’s the last thing I’m going to do. If anything, they’re just getting me more fired up to see this thing through.”

Balderama took the concern to city attorney Eddy Treviño, who requested the assistance of the Texas Secretary of State’s Office to determine Lugo’s “residency and eligibility.”

A spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office confirmed the city was provided with legal guidance solely about Texas Election Code.

However, the state agency cannot determine a candidate’s eligibility or residency, said Sam Taylor, communication director with the Secretary of State’s Office. That is left up to the city and its bylaws.

Lugo, who lives on Lott Road in Donna, signed a city development agreement when the city was annexing property, he said.

“The building itself, which is my residence, is not part of the development agreement,” Lugo said. “It’s an existing building … it’s already developed. There’s nothing to develop.”

He requested an updated city map before filing to seek the mayoral seat.

Lugo does not believe he is ineligible to seek office and will continue with his mayoral bid.

“It wouldn’t make sense to just not tax me,” Lugo said, insisting undeveloped land nearby his home is the only tax-exempt property.

Treviño confirmed that Lugo signed a development agreement when the city annexed the area, but said Lugo would not be paying city taxes on his property, making him ineligible to seek office in Donna.

“Our charter states that if you’re going to run for office, you have to be a resident of the city for at least six months prior to filing.” Treviño said. “So, he does not meet that criteria.”

When asked about the timing of the announcement, Treviño said applications for a place on the general election ballot are accepted, but it was the complaint that prompted closer inspection.

“Until somebody brought it up to (Balderama), then she started looking into it,” he said.

Should Lugo win the election outright, the issue could be taken to state district court, if a lawsuit is filed, according to Taylor.

“This is just a clear example of how the city spends their resources,” Lugo said. “They’ve got too much to lose, and they know once I win, they’re jeopardizing their livelihoods because they’re all in it for political reasons and this is what has kept Donna behind all these years.”

Lugo’s name appears third on the ballot along with mayoral candidates Simon Sauceda, incumbent Irene Muñoz and Rick Morales.

Lugo said Donna police handed him a city letter at his home on Thursday.

“I’m going to stay on the ballot, and I’m going to continue the election, and the voters in Donna are going to decide who to vote for,” Lugo said.