Sullivan City mulls new rules for political campaigns

EDITOR’S NOTE: The ordinance that approved these regulations was passed Thursday, Dec. 27, 2018.

Sullivan City may crack down on the carnival atmosphere that pervades local elections.

The Sullivan City Commission held a workshop Dec. 6 to discuss restrictions on signs, tents and barbecue pits during election season.

SullivanCityLogoCandidates anchor campaign tents with metal stakes, which damage the parking lot near City Hall. Huge trailer-mounted barbecue pits generate piles of trash. And candidates abandon campaign signs after Election Day.

“It’s costing the city close to $13,000 every election,” said Mayor Leo Garcia. “Money that our taxpayers are paying.”

City workers collected more than 300 signs after the polls closed in November. Sullivan City also had problems with the parking lot.

Candidates frequently pitch their tents near the Sullivan City Fire Department. They anchor the tents with metal stakes, which create holes in the parking lot. Water seeps through the holes and damages the asphalt.

Concerned about the problems, Garcia asked City Attorney Armando Marroquin to draft an ordinance.

“Most cities now, throughout Hidalgo County, do have them,” Marroquin said, adding that a city ordinance would remove the need for spur-of-the-moment decisions. “And the reason that would be important is, obviously, this is a small community. Sometimes certain people within the City Council are involved in elections, and I think what this would probably do is put everybody on a level playing field.”

Marroquin modeled the Sullivan City ordinance on regulations adopted by the Peñitas City Council in October 2017.

Under the proposal, Sullivan City would restrict when and where candidates pitch campaign tents.

“We know that, normally, what happens is people come, they set up, they take up the whole parking lot,” Marroquin said. “And they’re setting up sometimes two, three days before the election.”

The ordinance would allow candidates to pitch campaign tents at 5:30 p.m. on the day before early voting begins.

Sullivan City would set aside part of the parking lot for campaign tents and assign spaces at random.

The regulations would also restrict campaign signs.

Candidates blanketed Sullivan City with signs in March, when the Democratic Party held a primary; in May, when the Agua Special Utility District held an election; and in November, when the La Joya Independent School District held an election.

“Our employees picked them up,” Garcia said. “We filled up our trash bin back here. I don’t think it’s fair to our employees.”

City Commissioner Sylvia Castillo said the thicket of signs near Sullivan City Memorial Park posed a particularly thorny problem.

“They saturate the whole entrance,” Castillo said. “And that’s way too much.”

To cut down on clutter, Sullivan City would limit each candidate to three signs: one large sign and two yard signs.

Sullivan City would require candidates to remove the signs 24 hours after the election ends.

“I think that if you finish that evening, by the next evening your stuff should be out of here,” Castillo said.
Along with restrictions on signs, tents and barbecue pits, Sullivan City may charge a filing fee to offset election-related costs.

La Joya and Peñitas charge candidates $500 to file a ballot application. Sullivan City and Palmview don’t currently charge a filing fee.

“I’m not talking about a sky-high fee,” Garcia said. “I’m talking about a reasonable fee.”

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