Edcouch disqualifies two political candidates

The fate of two Edcouch political hopefuls is uncertain after city officials moved to reject their applications to run for office in the upcoming November election.

The city, via elections administrator Manuel Hernandez, rejected the applications of Jose Calin Guzman and Alicia Segura just days after they submitted their candidate applications on the Aug. 19 filing deadline.

The city sent Guzman, who is seeking the office of mayor, and Segura, who applied to run for alderwoman Place 4, certified letters on Aug. 22 notifying them of their disqualification. Both have previously served on the city council.

Edcouch is alleging that both candidates are ineligible for being in violation of one or more provisions laid out in the city charter regarding the qualifications of officers — namely that candidates cannot be indebted to the city, and that a candidate must reside within the city.

“Any officer or employee of the city who shall cease to possess any of the qualifications herein required shall forthwith forfeit his office and any such contract in which any such officer or employee is or may become interested may be declared void by the City Council,” reads, in part, Article 3, Sec. 6 of the charter. The charter was adopted in 1928.

 

EDCOUCH’S REASONS WHY

According to City Manager Victor Hugo de la Cruz, both candidates have outstanding city debt.

Guzman owes nearly $30,000 in delinquent property taxes dating back to 1984, county records show. It’s a fact Guzman doesn’t deny. “Yes, I do owe the city taxes,” Guzman said during a phone interview Tuesday.

“Since I turned 65, I stopped paying,” the 78-year-old said. However, Guzman said part of the outstanding balance was not accrued by him, but by his mother who owned the property before him.

Meanwhile, the city alleges Segura owes $395.68 stemming from a delinquent water bill.

The bill is just one of approximately 500 of the city’s 1,000 water accounts discovered earlier this year to be delinquent — accounts amounting to more than $650,000 in unpaid bills.

Segura’s outstanding water bill ultimately led Edcouch officials to find a second reason to reject her candidate application.

The account has been shuttered since 2011; however, its Southern Street address is the same address Segura listed on her candidate application as her place of residence. Edcouch officials believe Segura does not reside at that address, but instead lives in the neighboring town of Elsa.

In his letter notifying Segura of her disqualification, the election administrator points to county tax records which show Segura as the sole owner of a property on Diana Street in the heart of Elsa and just 1.5 blocks south of Elsa City Hall.

Hernandez also points to a discrepancy on Segura’s driver’s license, which lists Diana Street as her address, but lists the location of that address as “Edcouch, Texas.”

County tax records also show that the mailing address associated with the Elsa property match an Edcouch post office box number Segura listed on her application.

 

LEGAL HISTORY

This is not the first time allegations have been made that a candidate does not live within the city. Nor is it the first time Edcouch has tried to disqualify a candidate for owing the city money.

A citizen previously tried to disqualify Guzman, who is the father of current Place 4 Alderman Danny A. Guzman, from serving as mayor after he won the 2007 election. Guadalupe Montelongo filed for a temporary restraining order against Guzman and the city to prevent his being sworn in as mayor because of his delinquent taxes.

Guzman emerged victorious in the legal battle, ultimately reaching an agreement to pay some $3,000 in delinquent taxes, he said.

And last fall, the city accused Joel Segura — then one of three candidates running together on a slate — of not residing in the city. Joel Segura and Alicia Segura are also related.

In that instance, the city sent Joel Segura a letter in October notifying him of his ineligibility to run, just three weeks before the start of early voting, and after his name had already been placed on the ballot.

Segura ultimately won the election and sued the city when it tried to block him from taking his seat as Place 2 alderman. The fallout from the suit, which Segura also won, resulted in both the city attorney and city administrator being fired. Edcouch was also left on the hook for a combined $26,000 legal bill, which it paid using the general fund.

 

TWO-STEP PROCESS

It’s those legal fees, paid for by a city already struggling with its finances, that helped spur the city’s action this election season, City Manager Victor Hugo de la Cruz said. Being in compliance with the city charter was another reason.

The city had been trying to abide by the charter in its action last fall against Segura, but its timing had been wrong, which led to the city losing its case.

“If you go back and look at the case back then when I came in, the process was done backwards. It was after the fact,” de la Cruz said of the legal action taken against Segura. Edcouch had hoped to avoid more legal bills by avoiding similar missteps this time around.

To that end, the city is following a “two-step process” it says is outlined in state election code.

City Attorney Orlando Jimenez explained that that first step, according to Sec. 145.003 of the code, is for an “appropriate authority” — in this case, the city’s election administrator — to declare a candidate ineligible after reviewing a candidate’s application “or another public record.”

Edcouch effectively accomplished that when it sent Guzman and Segura certified letters last month, Jimenez said.

The second part, according to Sec. 145.004 of the election code, is for a judge to affirm the disqualification in a declaratory judgement, Jimenez said.

As such, last Thursday, the city council gave Jimenez the go-ahead to file for declaratory judgments against the candidates. However, it was a 3–2 split decision.

Jimenez explained he would likely file with the court early this week, however court records show no such litigation has yet been initiated by the city.

Alicia Segura, however, filed for and was granted a temporary restraining order against the city. Segura declined to comment for this story due to the pending litigation.

Segura filed for the TRO last week, just hours before the council was set to convene. It was granted at 4 p.m. that day, and restrained the city “from violating election laws and the election code, and disqualifying (Segura) from a place in the ballot,” court records show.

Though at least one alderman was aware of the TRO and brought it to the attention of the rest by the time of the Sept. 5 meeting, the city was not officially served until this Monday.

Since the city had not yet been served, it proceeded with the meeting. “The vote was cast, the vote was done and there’s nothing illegal or invalid about that,” Jimenez said after the meeting.

However, the city attorney argued that Segura had already effectively been disqualified long before the TRO was requested, and said Edcouch is not violating election law. “This restraining order is moot because the disqualification has already happened,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.

 

NEXT STEPS

Segura and the city are set to meet in court next Thursday for a temporary injunction hearing. She is asking the court to declare that Edcouch’s “actions are illegal, invalid and contrary to ethical rules and policies,” according to a complaint filed in County Court at Law No. 8.

Part of Segura’s argument is that Edcouch is a general law city not governed by a charter. It’s similar to a legal argument Guzman used to defend his own case in 2007. Then, Guzman argued the charter that was adopted by the city council in 1928 was invalid because it was never presented for voter approval.

Despite that, Guzman used the charter’s own language to defend himself then, arguing that its language on disqualification applies only to those already serving elected office or employed by the city. “CALIN GUZMAN cannot forfeit an office to which he has not yet been sworn to hold,” court documents read.

Though he says the same arguments apply today, Guzman said he doesn’t have the funds to mount a legal defense this time around. “I really don’t know why they’re doing that, maybe they’re afraid that I’ll win,” he said of Edcouch’s current attempt to disqualify him.

Jimenez, meanwhile, said the city aims to continue on the path it has set. “We’re moving forward with what we’ve done,” he said.