A judge blocked the Palmview city council from ordering a special election after Mayor Ricardo “Rick” Villarreal filed a lawsuit against the city Friday morning.
The order, from visiting Judge Romeo Flores, was signed just a few hours before the scheduled city council meeting Friday evening during which they were expected to order a new election to be held Jan. 29.
The meeting went forward as scheduled but the council declined to take action on the matter.
Ordering a new election would have been in line with an opinion from the Texas Secretary of State’s office that advised them to call for a new election.
However, the lawsuit states that the opinion from the secretary of state’s office was non-binding and incomplete.
In addition to preventing the city to hold a new election, Villarreal requests that he be declared mayor since no one ran against him during the Nov. 6 municipal elections.
On the ballot, Villarreal was simply listed in a section for unopposed candidates declared elected.
However, the election was not properly canceled and Villarreal should have received a least one vote, according to Christina Worrell Adkins, legal director of the secretary of state’s elections division.
The issue was that there were two other city council races that were contested. Because voters were able to vote in those races, they should have been able to vote in the mayor’s race as well.
Villarreal, an assistant superintendent at the La Joya school district, could not be reached for comment though he previously stated that he would be willing to run again.
His attorney, Francisco J. Rodriguez, did not return a request for comment.
Because the mayor’s race was handled improperly, Worrell Adkins wrote that there was now a vacancy in that position and that a new election should be held within 120 days that the vacancy occurred.
In this case, that day was Nov. 20, the day Villarreal was sworn in as mayor against the advice of the secretary of state’s office.
But because he was sworn in, Worrell Adkins wrote that they believed Villarreal should continue to serve until a new election is held.
City Attorney Eric Flores said Villarreal was well within his rights to file the TRO and that on behalf of the city, they were just just trying to do what was right.
If the judge were to ultimately rule that Villarreal should remain mayor, Flores replied that they “of course have full faith in our justice system.”
Later, in a news release, the city assured residents that “its councilmembers are working diligently to resolve this matter in the most efficient manner possible to ensure the correct course of action is taken.”
A hearing on the temporary restraining order is scheduled for 9 a.m on Jan. 8, 2019.
At least until then, Mayor pro tem Joel Garcia will be responsible for presiding over meetings and signing off on documents, according to interim City Manager Leo Olivares.
“We still have to continue the work of the city, the council needs to meet, we still need to conduct the work,” he said, though Villarreal will continue to perform the ceremonial duties of mayor.
If the judge were to ultimately rule in Villarreal’s favor, the mayor would avoid at least one challenge to his position.
Roy Diaz, a local business owner, said he intended to file to run for mayor after being talked down from doing so during the November municipal elections.
“I think I’m a better candidate than Mr. Villarreal,” said Diaz, owner of Zaid Carriers, a trucking company based in Palmview, who also previously served on the Palmview Crime Stoppers board.
“ It happened for a reason,” he said of the opportunity to run. “I’d been considering it since 2010 and right now I think I’m ready for it.”