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Sullivan City offers candidates a choice: pay $500 or perform 500 hours of community service

When candidates for Sullivan City Council submit ballot applications for the May election, they’ll need to bring $500 — or be ready to perform 500 hours of community service.

The Sullivan City Council approved the $500 fee during a meeting on Jan. 4. Anyone who can’t pay may perform 500 hours of community service instead.

“Elections are expensive,” said Mayor Leonel “Leo” Garcia, who didn’t attend the meeting.

Sullivan City contracts with the Hidalgo County Elections Department, which runs the city’s elections. Garcia said an election costs Sullivan City about $15,000.

Asking candidates to pay a modest $500 filing fee would partially offset the cost, Garcia said, and deter people who aren’t serious candidates from wasting taxpayer money.

“I think it’s a good idea in some sense,” Garcia said. “Because what happens there is: In previous years, we’ve had a lot of people pick up applications, submit them and then they back out.”

The City Council unanimously approved the filing fee and community service option during a meeting on Jan. 4. Garcia and City Councilman Julian Peña didn’t attend the meeting.

Members of the City Council discussed the $500 filing fee but didn’t mention the number of community service hours they would require. City Manager Ana Mercado said the ordinance required 500 hours.

While he supports the $500 filing fee, Garcia said he doesn’t think 500 hours of community service is a reasonable alternative.

A candidate who worked 40-hour weeks would be required to spend more than three months performing community service to qualify for the ballot.

“That doesn’t make any sense to me at all,” Garcia said. “I don’t think that’s feasible.”

Other cities also require candidates who don’t pay a filing fee to perform community service.

Pharr requires candidates to pay a $1,000 filing fee. Candidates who can’t pay must perform at least 520 hours of community service “during the calendar year immediately preceding the person’s submission of an application for a place on the ballot,” according to city ordinance.

“The fee, $500, may not be much for some people, but that will keep a minimum wage employee from running for office,” said attorney Ric Gonzalez of Edinburg, who represents cities throughout Hidalgo County.

McAllen requires mayoral candidates to pay a $500 filing fee. Candidates for commission pay $250. Anyone who doesn’t want to pay may submit a petition signed by either 25 registered voters or “one-half of one percent of the total vote received in the territory from which the office is elected by all the candidates for Mayor in the most recent mayoral election,” whichever number is higher, according to information published by the City Secretary’s Office.

“What McAllen has is what should be adopted,” Gonzalez said, adding that signatures are more reasonable than months of community service.

City Councilman Jaime Villarreal, who voted for the filing fee, said he wanted to offset the cost of elections.

Sullivan City may be able to accept the $500 filing fee or community service hours in installments, Villarreal said. The City Council may also re-evaluate the number of community service hours.

“It’s something to look into,” Villarreal said.

Filing for the May election started Jan. 13 and ends Feb. 12. Election day is May 1.

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