Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Rumors that State Rep. Justin Rodriguez will be named the interim Bexar County Commissioner percolated less than one week after Commissioner Paul Elizondo (Pct. 2) died, but Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Wednesday he would not discuss specific candidates for the appointment until after Elizondo’s funeral on Thursday.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about it because Paul had been under a lot of challenges, health-wise,” Wolff told the Rivard Report, adding that the decision will come “soon” and “I’ll be talking to my colleagues.”
Under state law, a county judge has sole authority to fill a vacancy on the Commissioner’s Court – a special election isn’t an option. That Precinct 2 resident will serve until the next general election in November 2020.
Elizondo, a Democrat who held the office for more than 35 years, was re-elected in November last year to serve his 10th term as commissioner. Queta Rodriguez, who was the county’s veterans services officer, challenged Elizondo in the Democratic primary for the seat. In a May primary runoff election, he received 52 percent of the vote, and Queta Rodriguez had 48 percent.
“We respect his service to our community and appreciate it,” she said Wednesday.
Wolff outlined four areas of experience he’s seeking in a replacement to serve for the next two years: with the Legislature in Austin, with the City of San Antonio, with budgetary matters, and with countywide talent development.
Bexar County’s relationship with the City has been “spotty lately,” Wolff said. “We need to do a better job of working out those relationships.”
Education and workforce training programs are the keys to economic development, he said. Elizondo’s replacement would need experience in those realms.
Justin Rodriguez ticks off at least three of four boxes as a state legislator who has served as a City Council member and San Antonio Independent School District trustee. He did not respond to several requests for an interview.
There is no formal application process and no paperwork to submit for the interim position. It’s simply up to the judge. The City, on the other hand, is following its own process to fill a vacancy on Council – as outlined by City charter – that requires an application, deadlines, and a Council vote.
If the court voted on the interim County position, “that would be more fair,” said Leonard Rodriguez, CEO of the Westside Development Corp., a nonprofit aimed at economic revitalization. “But at least [the public] will get some insight on how political power is brokered. Hopefully, he’ll put some real thought into it not just make another typical appointment.”
Precinct 2 covers fewer square miles than the three other County precincts but is densely populated. It stretches northwest from just west and north of downtown to the county line, including the municipality of Leon Valley and continuing toward Helotes. According to the 2010 census profile, about 437,000 people live in the precinct, 73 percent of whom are Hispanic. The district includes high and low-income neighborhoods with diverse priorities.
The precinct – especially the near-West Side – needs someone who can work with other authorities and agencies for a cohesive plan, Leonard Rodriguez said. “Between the City, the County, and UTSA figuring out what a strategy is for [the area], it’s going to take getting all three on the same page.”
The Commissioner’s Court has had two female elected leaders – Helen Dutmer, who retired from Precinct 4 in 2007, and Cyndi Taylor Krier, who served as a judge from 1993 to 2001.
Queta Rodriguez wants the interim County seat, she told the Rivard Report, and she plans on running in November 2020.
“Nearly half the [Democratic voting] population believe that I should be the next commissioner,” she said. Elizondo received 5,391 votes in the primary runoff, she received 5,003.
“I believe we need representation that reflects the people and there’s not one woman on that court,” she said. “I never told people to vote for me because I’m a woman. I’m competent and qualified.”
After 20 years of serving in the Marine Corps, Queta Rodriguez was recruited by Elizondo to became the county’s Veterans Service Officer in 2014. Her position was removed from the County’s budget – replaced with a similarly named position – soon after the election. She claims that was political retaliation.
“I hope that once the time comes and the judge is ready to select someone to represent Precinct 2 that he really considers selecting someone for the community … not [for] politics,” she said.
Wolff said his decision will be based on experience.
“I’m looking for those four attributes,” Wolff said. “It doesn’t matter to me whether they’re African American, Latino, Anglo, or a woman.”
Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), whose district partially overlaps with Precinct 2, said he is confident Wolff will make a good decision – but it’s guaranteed to upset some groups.
“[Wolff is] somebody who considered Paul one of his closest friends,” Brockhouse said. “What the commissioner would have wanted is going to weigh heavily on the judge’s word.”
Wolff will take that and what’s good for the residents of Precinct 2 into consideration, Brockhouse said, adding that both Queta and Justin are highly qualified as well as other names he’s heard floated for the position, including Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5). Gonzales, whose district also overlaps with Precinct 2, could not be reached for comment.
“I don’t think the public cares so much about the person,” Brockhouse said, “… it’s more about who can step in and fill this job.”