In a moment so quick one nearly could have missed it by blinking, the Weslaco City Commission voted unanimously to accept the resignation of District 4 Commissioner Gerardo “Jerry” Tafolla Tuesday evening.
The commission did not pause to discuss the now-former commissioner’s resignation, nor the impetus behind it. Instead, they continued on to the next item on the agenda: discussing the logistics of holding a special election to find a replacement for the remainder of Tafolla’s term.
“You cannot appoint anyone; it must be filled by a special election,” Weslaco City Attorney Juan Gonzalez explained to the commission.
He went on to add that both the city charter and state law share similar language about how municipal government vacancies must be filled.
“The (Texas) constitution states that any vacancy occurring on a municipal governing body shall not be filled by appointment, but must be filled by majority vote of the qualified voters at a special election,” Gonzalez said.
Too, that election must occur within 120 days of the vacancy occurring, said City Secretary Myra Ayala.
She added that, after reaching out to the Hidalgo County elections department and the Texas Secretary of State’s office, she recommended the commission consider two possible election dates: Tuesday, July 9 or Tuesday, July 16.
“They said for them this would probably be the best time, because they also have to start preparing for the November election,” Ayala said of her conversations with county elections officials.
Commissioner Leo Muñoz asked if there was any way the city could postpone holding an election until the uniform election date in November, when the city typically holds elections.
“Where does this rule come from? Is there any exceptions we can take? I mean, we’re going to be incurring expenses … just for this seat, right?” Muñoz said. “My automatic reaction to that is to just wait until November,” he said.
“The law will not allow that,” the city attorney replied.
Both Mayor David Suarez and District 3 Commissioner Jose “J.P.” Rodriguez spoke of the need to call an election sooner rather than later.
“We might be incurring cost, but I think, ultimately, it’s an investment in democracy for our city,” Rodriguez said.
“We need to call a special election as soon as possible and whatever the cost is, we have to let the citizens decide from District 4 who they want to elect,” the mayor said a moment later.
By unanimous vote, the commission agreed to aim for a July 16 election, a decision they expect to formally codify at their next regular meeting May 7.
Tafolla, who was not present at Tuesday’s special meeting, submitted a letter of resignation on Friday, April 12, several days after pleading guilty to federal program bribery as part of a larger pay-to-play scheme involving a $38 million project to improve the city’s water treatment facilities.
In the letter, he offered a note of contrition, apologizing to Weslaco voters. “Although, I am not proud of my actions, I am not ashamed of the progress and the accomplishments that you (the citizens of Weslaco) and I as your city commission have brought to the City of Weslaco in the past nine and a half years,” Tafolla wrote.
“I want to apologize to all the citizens of Weslaco,” he continued.
Both Tafolla’s name and photograph had been removed from the city’s official website even as the commission meeting continued Tuesday evening.
Tafolla was re-elected to his District 4 seat in November 2018. The winner of July’s special election will serve the remainder of his unexpired term, which ends in 2021.