A judge ruled Monday that Rick Villarreal is the rightful mayor of Palmview, resolving a long-running controversy over the November 2018 election.
State District Judge Romeo Flores ruled Monday that Ricardo “Rick” Villarreal, 48, of Palmview — an assistant superintendent at the La Joya Independent School District who served two terms on the City Council — had been “duly elected” and no vacancy existed under the city charter.
“It’s a good feeling,” Villarreal said, adding that he wanted to thank the judge for resolving the situation.
Judge Flores notified attorney Francisco J. Rodriguez of McAllen, who represents the mayor, and City Attorney Eric Flores about the decision by email on Monday.
The saga started in August, when Villarreal filed for mayor. Nobody challenged him.
Four people, however, filed for two seats on the City Council.
The ballot allowed voters to choose candidates for City Council, but Villarreal appeared on a separate page with candidates elected by default. That prevented people from actually voting for him.
When questions about the ballot surfaced in November, the city requested an opinion from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.
The Secretary of State’s Office determined Villarreal hadn’t been properly elected and advised Palmview to proceed with caution.
“Generally, the prior mayor would hold over. However, the mayoral candidate was given a certificate of election and was sworn in against our office’s advice,” according to an email from Christina Worrell Adkins, the legal director of the Secretary of State’s Office Elections Division, to Palmview on Dec. 3. “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.”
Concerned the City Council would call a special election, Villarreal filed a lawsuit against Palmview. He asked Judge Flores to resolve the issue by declaring him the mayor.
Attorneys for Villarreal and the city attempted to fast-track the lawsuit. They submitted a joint stipulation of facts and agreed not to appeal whatever the judge decided. Both moves saved taxpayer money.
Mayor Pro Tem Joel Garcia, who presided over City Council meetings during the controversy, said the decision will allow Palmview to move forward.
“It just goes to show that the city had a mayor all along,” Garcia said. “And the city didn’t do anything wrong.”