Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Turmoil on the Castle Hills City Council over an alderwoman’s efforts to oust the city manager escalated Thursday with the arrests of the alderwoman and another woman elected to City Council whose seat is in question.
Castle Hills City Alderwoman Lesley Wenger (Place 4) is accused of two felonies: fraudulent use or possession of identifying information and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence in what an arrest affidavit said was part of a push to remove City Manager Ryan Rapelye. Sylvia Gonzalez, who is listed on the Castle Hills website as the Place 3 representative, is accused of misdemeanor tampering with a government record.
According to her arrest affidavit, Gonzalez took petitions that were city property and that an officer reviewed surveillance footage of a May 21 Council meeting that he said showed “furtive movements” from Gonzalez.
The arrest affidavit for Wenger claims that she wrote down Rapelye’s date of birth, Social Security number, Texas driver’s license number, and the name of a caseworker assigned to Rapelye’s child support case while viewing his personnel file without permission during a meeting. She ripped up the paper she wrote the information down on after Rapelye confronted her about it, the affidavit alleges.
Alderman Clyde “Skip” McCormick said that Wenger previously had informed him and another Council member of her plans to remove Rapelye and replace him with one of Wenger’s friends, according to the affidavit. The affidavit also lists similar testimony from other people.
Wenger and Gonzalez did not immediately provide comment on Thursday.
The arrests come on the heels of a contentious special meeting called Wednesday evening to discuss the City Council Place 3 seat. Although Gonzalez was elected in May and participated in Council decisions until earlier this month, City Attorney Marc Schnall declared her seat to be vacated because she was not properly sworn in.
Gonzalez was sworn into office by Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar. According to Texas law, elected representatives must be sworn in by certain officials, including judges, justices of the peace, or a notary public. Sheriffs are not among those permitted to swear in elected officials.
“I have written opinions from the office of the secretary of state and from the general counsel of the Texas Municipal League, stating that Place 3, held by Ms. Gonzalez, is a vacant place,” Schnall said at the Wednesday meeting. “I also have an opinion from the office of the secretary of state what happens in that event.”
Because McCormick was absent Wednesday, Schnall advised the Council that it did not have a quorum. Wenger and Gonzalez, who was sitting at the Place 3 seat during the meeting, tried to object.
“In 2014, [then-Bexar County Sheriff] Susan Pamerleau swore in [aldermen] Douglas Gregory and Lesley Wenger and it was OK,” Gonzalez said. “So I believe the U.S. Constitution, Amendment 14, gives me equal privileges.”
Wednesday’s agenda included discussing filling the Place 3 seat, but the meeting was dismissed before members were able to take the item up.
Castle Hills City Council, which consists of five members and the mayor, who only votes in case of a tie, often decides issues on 3-2 votes. Wenger and Gonzalez often have voted the same way alongside Councilman Mark Sanderson.
“I am deeply concerned and disturbed by the nature of these charges – all of which are in opposition to the values held by our City and its residents,” Castle Hills Mayor JR Treviño said in a statement about the arrests issued Thursday night. “I am dedicated to keeping our community resilient and I encourage residents to reserve any judgment until the justice system has an opportunity to fully investigate these charges.”
Schnall was not available Thursday to provide comment.
Wenger and Gonzalez were both released on personal recognizance bonds Thursday, according to Bexar County records.