The Texas Secretary of State’s Office confirmed Wednesday that Palmview Mayor Rick Villarreal wasn’t properly elected.
Ricardo “Rick” Villarreal — an assistant superintendent at the La Joya school district who served two terms on the Palmview City Council — filed for mayor in August. Nobody challenged him.
The ballot listed Villarreal with unopposed candidates who had been declared elected. As a result, he didn’t receive a single vote.
“Since there were other contested candidates on the same ballot, the mayoral candidate was required to have received at least one vote to be duly elected,” Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state, said in an email. “The City should not have canceled the mayoral election, the unopposed candidate was required to receive at least one vote.”
Serious questions about the ballot surfaced after Election Day, but the City Council pressed forward with a swearing-in ceremony for Villarreal.
“If the good lord wants me to be there, I will,” Villarreal said. “And if the good lord doesn’t, then I’ll get my a** kicked by whoever. And that will be the end of Rick for mayor.”
The statement from the secretary of state’s office, though, left Villarreal in limbo Wednesday.
“Since the candidate was not actually elected in accordance with the Texas Election Code, there is a vacancy in that office, which will have to be filled by a special election in accordance with Sec. 201 of the Code,” Taylor said in an email.
What’s next for Palmview remains unclear.
“The Secretary of State has made an informal statement to a local newspaper in reference to our recent Mayoral race which was held on November 6, 2018, involving an unopposed candidate,” according to a statement released by City Attorney Eric Flores. “The City of Palmview has taken immediate action and has requested a formal written opinion from The Secretary of State Elections Division in regard to the current situation.”
City officials spoke with an attorney from the secretary of state’s office, but haven’t actually received a written opinion, said Interim City Manager Leo Olivares. They anticipate something in writing by Friday.
“While we await the Secretary of State’s opinion, we will diligently continue to review this matter, so we may identify any deficiencies which may have occurred by the City or the Hidalgo County Elections Department,” Flores said in the statement. “We then will take impactful steps to ensure a similar situation never occurs again.”
Former Palmview Mayor Jerry Perez, who decided not to run for re-election, called the situation crazy.
“It’s embarrassing. It’s totally embarrassing,” Perez said. “This is not something that the citizens of Palmview deserve.”