This article was updated Thursday, Dec. 6, at 3:30 p.m.
Palmview must hold a new mayoral election, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.
Questions about the mayoral race surfaced last month, prompting Palmview City Attorney Eric Flores to request a written opinion from the secretary of state.
The answer — a two-page email from Christina Worrell Adkins, legal director of the secretary of state’s Elections Division — arrived Monday morning.
“I’m going to review it thoroughly,” Flores said, adding that he would advise the City Council accordingly.
Serious questions about the mayoral election surfaced during November, just days before the swearing-in ceremony.
Ricardo “Rick” Villarreal — an assistant superintendent at the La Joya Independent School District who served two terms on the City Council — filed for mayor on Aug. 16.
Nobody challenged him.
Two seats on the City Council, though, were contested.
The ballot listed Villarreal on a page with candidates who were declared elected by default. As a result, he didn’t receive a single vote.
“Under Section 2.051 of the Texas Election Code the mayoral candidate race for the City of Palmview was not properly canceled because there were two opposed at-large races on the ballot and the candidate did not receive the vote/s required in order to be elected,” according to the email from Worrell Adkins.
Villarreal, however, pressed forward with the swearing-in ceremony on Nov. 20 despite the uncertainty.
“Generally, the prior mayor would hold over,” Worrell Adkins wrote. “However, the mayoral candidate was given a certificate of election and was sworn in against our office’s advice. Because the mayoral candidate was given a certificate of election and was sworn in, our office believes that the current mayor sworn in should serve in office until a pending special election is held to fill the vacancy.”
Worrell Adkins advised Palmview to proceed cautiously, warning that actions taken by Villarreal may become vulnerable to legal challenges.
“Additionally, we strongly advise you to exercise caution regarding any official acts made by the defacto mayor,” Worrell Adkins wrote. “We understand that you are in contact with Texas Municipal League and we would suggest continuing to seek their advice on council actions involving the mayor until this is resolved through your special election.”
Mayor Pro Tem Joel Garcia said Palmview would follow the recommendation.
“We will go by whatever the law says,” Garcia said. “Whatever we need to do to make things right.”
While the city must correct the mistake, Garcia said he doesn’t think Palmview is at fault for the ballot mix-up.
Palmview must hold the new mayoral election within 120 days of Nov. 20, when the City Council canvassed the results.
“I believe in order to keep democracy alive, the recommendations of the Secretary of State should be followed,” City Councilman Anthony Uresti said in a statement. “The citizens of Palmview deserve the right to vote for a candidate that will represent them.”