Palmview mayor’s attorney argues lack of vacancy in election trial

EDINBURG — An attorney for Palmview Mayor Ricardo “Rick” Villarreal argued in court Tuesday that there is no vacancy of the mayor’s position as defined by the city charter.

That was the basis of their argument during a half-hour trial over whether the city of Palmview can order a new mayoral election or whether Villarreal can retain his position despite a Texas Secretary of State opinion that his election was not properly handled.

Frank Rodriguez, the attorney representing Villarreal, argued before visiting Judge Romeo Flores, that the opinion issued by the secretary of state’s office was just that — an opinion — and did not take the city charter into consideration.

The official opinion was issued by Christina Worrell Adkins, the legal director of the secretary of state’s elections division via email to City Attorney Eric Flores.

In the email, Worrell Adkins wrote that voters’ inability to vote for Villarreal, who ran unopposed and was simply listed on the ballot among other unopposed candidates declared elected, was inappropriate.

Because there were two contested races for the Palmview City Council, voters should have been able to vote in the mayor’s race as well, regardless of whether he ran unopposed, according to Worrell Adkins, who added that the error resulted in a vacancy of the mayor’s position.

However, Rodriguez noted during the trial on Tuesday that Worrell Adkins wrote that the secretary of state’s office “opines on state election law” but does “opine directly on city charters” and therefore the opinion did not take Palmview’s charter into consideration.

He argued that there was no vacancy, according to the charter, which states that a vacancy occurs “upon the death, resignation, forfeiture of office, or removal from office in any manner authorized by law.”

Deferring to the charter of a home-rule city, like Palmview, was what the Texas Supreme Court did in a case decided in 2002 involving the city of San Juan.

Rodriguez cited the case in which the city of San Juan’s charter appeared to contradict the election code regarding filing deadlines. The court, however, ultimately found the election code gave leeway to home-rule cities when it came to setting requirements for filing candidate applications.

“They ordered the city secretary to comply with the city charter even though it was not consistent with the election code,” Rodriguez said before the judge.

He reiterated that under Palmview’s charter there was no vacancy and therefore there was no basis for the court to order a special election.

Eric Flores, the Palmview city attorney, submitted several documents including Villarreal’s application to be on the ballot, his certificate of election, a copy of his oath of office, and a copy of the opinion from the secretary of state’s office.

“Having everything before you, on behalf of the city of Palmview we would ask for a ruling, whether it be today or later on,” Flores told the judge. “Whether it is required to (hold) a new election or that Mr. Villarreal is our mayor.”

Judge Flores said he would review the documents on Monday and issue a ruling shortly thereafter.