On Tuesday, the Weslaco City Commission discussed how to move forward with a special election to amend the city’s charter. As in other municipalities, the fate of Weslaco’s May election has been upended by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
While most government entities chose to delay their spring elections until November after Gov. Greg Abbott urged them to do so last month, Weslaco leaders initially held off on making a similar decision. And after Tuesday’s regular meeting, that decision remains up in the air.
At stake are charter amendments that, if passed, would change the face of the commission and its districts.
The proposed changes include hybridizing the commission from six single-member districts to a system of four single-member districts and two at-large seats. The city’s current district lines would need to be redrawn to accommodate the hybrid makeup.
But it’s not just the districts voters will be asked to decide on; two other charter amendment proposals will ask them to decide on instituting term limits and lengthening individual terms by a year.
If voters pass the term limit proposition, commissioners and the mayor would be limited to serving a maximum of three terms. Currently, elected officials can serve as many terms as voters continue to elect them to serve.
Each term is three years long.
But the final proposition could change that, as well. If passed, terms would be extended by one year, and would go into effect as soon as the election results are certified. If all three propositions pass, then commissioners could serve a maximum of three consecutive terms for a maximum of 12 years.
But it’s that third proposition — extending term lengths to four years — that caused concern among the commission Tuesday.
Had the special election gone forward next month as planned, then there would have been no cause for worry. Regardless of whether the propositions passed or failed, the outcome would have had no bearing on November’s regularly scheduled municipal election, where the District 2 and 3 seats are up for grabs. Those seats are currently occupied by Commissioners Greg Kerr and Jose “J.P” Rodriguez, respectively.
However, holding the charter amendment election concurrently with the municipal election presents a problem. Should the two incumbents not win re-election, and should all three propositions pass, then who would fill those two seats — the incumbents, whose terms were just extended for an additional year by the amended charter, or the new candidates, who just won a separate duly called election?
To try to avoid that quandary, the commission is considering holding the charter amendments election on Aug. 25, the date which Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramon has told city leaders her department can facilitate it.
But questions remain. Though the results would be known months before November, Mayor David Suarez wondered how the special election would affect potential candidates, who would have to file candidate applications for the November election long before the August charter amendment election got underway.
“But, if you have the election Aug. 25, the window to file for seats that are up for election in November have already been closed,” Suarez said. “People have already filed, et cetera, and we don’t know what the outcome is, ‘cause the citizens might not go from three to four (year terms), and then you still have an election in November,” he said.
Picking up the thread, Commissioner Rodriguez asked what would happen to those candidates. “If the election happens in August, and the amendments pass, what happens to those individuals that filed?” Rodriguez said.
“There’s no election, because you cancel the election. I mean, we have to look at that, get legal to look at that,” Suarez replied, suggesting the commission seek a legal opinion on potential ramifications before making their decision.
The commission still has some time to decide. If they do choose to call for an August election, they must make the order official early next month, according to deadline timelines outlined in the state election code.
The commission is scheduled to meet one more time — on May 5 — before that deadline lapses. After a few more minutes of discussion, they voted unanimously to postpone their decision until then.