The city of Peñitas kicked three candidates off the ballot last week after they submitted faulty applications.
Peñitas rejected ballot applications filed by former Mayor Servando Ramirez, former City Councilman Rey Mendoza and local gadfly Noe Garza Jr.
“Personally, what I feel is: A bunch of idiots are running the city,” Mendoza said. “To me, it’s more of a self-interest than an interest in the community.”
Ramirez and Mendoza submitted incomplete applications. Garza, who decided to perform 500 hours of community service instead of paying a $500 filing fee, didn’t submit the required paperwork.
“I kind of knew, in the back of my head, that they were going to do this,” Garza said. “Because I know politics.”
In January 2017, just six days before the filing period started for the May 2017 election cycle, the City Council passed an ordinance that required all candidates to either pay a $500 filing fee or perform 500 hours of community service.
“And that ordinance, I dub it the ‘Noe Garza Ordinance,’” Garza said, adding that he believed the City Council passed the ordinance to prevent him from running.
Garza paid the $500 fee but decided to withdraw from the ballot. Peñitas canceled the election.
“So, this time around, I said: ‘OK, you want to beat around the bush? You want to belittle your people and create an ordinance to prevent people from running? Now I’m going to make a mockery out of you,’” Garza said.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
According to Garza, he performed 500 hours of community service through a nonprofit organization called the RGV-GED Training & Education Center. The organization assists people who want to earn a General Educational Development certificate, which is equivalent to a high school diploma.
“I’ve been doing that for a year and my passing rate has been 100,” Garza said. “I have several students that can attest to that.”
Garza, however, didn’t provide Peñitas with an affidavit from the organization that confirmed he performed 500 hours of community service.
“I did not submit an affidavit because my understanding — and I might be wrong — and, yes, I might have made a mistake on the application,” Garza said. “But at the end of the day there’s time to fix it.”
Garza waited until Feb. 17, the last day of the 30-day filing period, to submit his ballot application.
“Under the City Ordinance your application requires that you include a sworn affidavit confirming that you performed at least 500 hours of community service to the organization without compensation for the preceding calendar year,” according to a letter from the city of Peñitas to Garza dated Feb. 21. “Your application did not contain the sworn affidavit from the nonprofit organization.”
Candidates can’t fix mistakes after the filing period ends. Garza had been kicked off the ballot.
The letter noted that Peñitas had checked with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office and the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, which could find no record of the RGV-GED Training & Education Center.
Garza wasn’t the only candidate who had problems with the ballot application.
The city also rejected applications filed by Ramirez and Mendoza, who didn’t fill out part of the form that asked how long they had lived in Peñitas.
Ramirez and Mendoza blamed Interim City Secretary Martha Vasquez Munoz for the mistake.
When they completed the applications, Ramirez and Mendoza submitted them to Vasquez Munoz.
She told them “you’re good to go,” Ramirez said.
Days later, Peñitas rejected the applications.
“It’s ridiculous, you know, but they want power so bad,” Ramirez said. “But it’s not about power, it’s about public service.”
Vasquez Munoz said that she didn’t review the applications for completeness or accuracy. Her job is simply to provide candidates with the paperwork.
“I just give them the application,” Vasquez Munoz said. “And they fill it out to the best of their knowledge.”
When they filled out the applications, Vasquez Munoz notarized them.
“They just asked me: Is this all?” Vasquez Munoz said, and she told the candidates they had no other paperwork to fill out.