Scott Ball / Rivard Report
This year’s municipal and school district elections, set for May 7, are missing significant candidacies, races and issues that would likely lead to a high voter turnout. The Presidential primaries only add to the political haze. But voters in such communities as Texas House of Representatives District 120 and Castle Hills do have decisions to make at the polls.
Early voting for the May 7 elections continues through May 3. Click here for polling times and locations and here to download a sample ballot. Not sure what district you’re in? Click here to look it up by address or voter registration information.
Texas House District 120
Voters in Texas House District 120, on the City’s Eastside, must choose who among four candidates will fill the remainder of Ruth Jones McClendon’s term, which expires at the end of this year. Gov. Greg Abbott’s office called for the special election to fill the unexpired term after McClendon resigned on Jan. 31. McClendon, a Democrat, had held the office since winning a special election in 1996.
The four candidates for the special May 7 election are Latronda Darnell, Chris Dawkins, Lou Miller and Laura Thompson. Darnell, Dawkins and Miller each filed as a Democrat, and Thompson filed as an independent, to represent a heavily Democratic legislative district.
Darnell is a political newcomer and legislative director who interned for McClendon. Darnell and Lou Miller, an insurance agent, were among six candidates who ran in the March 1 Democratic primary for a full two-year term as the District 120 representative. Darnell and Lou Miller placed fifth and sixth, respectively.
Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, founder and superintendent of the George Gervin Academy (and sister of the Spurs legend), and former City Councilman Mario Salas emerged from the March 1 primary as the two top vote-getters and will be in a May 24 runoff. The winner will be unopposed in November’s general election.
Darnell has come under fire this campaign season as other candidates, such as Dawkins, have questioned her residency. A little more than a month before primary, Darnell and her husband had publicly listed New Braunfels as a residence, and campaign representatives said she had lived in Austin during legislative sessions while working as a staffer at the state capitol.
Closer to the March 1 primary, Darnell told local media she was filed as a Bexar County voter. More recently, her filing with the Texas Secretary of State lists a Converse address in District 120.
Despite the questions surrounding her residency, Darnell has said in previous media reports that being a legislative director has prepared her to serve as a state representative. A reporter’s attempt to reach Darnell for this article was unsuccessful.
But Dawkins, an Internet marketer, sent out a press release earlier this week, saying he was preparing to file a lawsuit against Darnell, the Texas Ethics Commission, Bexar County Elections Department, and the Texas Secretary of State.
Dawkins questioned Darnell’s currently listed residence, wondering whether she has lived in District 120 at least one year as the state requires.
“When someone files to run, the Secretary of State takes the information at face value. There’s no other recourse than to file a lawsuit,” he told The Rivard Report on Thursday. But in the same interview, he pledged to refrain from filing the suit and await the outcome of the election.
If Darnell wins, Dawkins said he would reconsider legal action. The draft suit would ask authorities to disqualify Darnell and prescribe remedies for what he called “flaws in the application process.”
Dawkins said it is a challenge to run for an unexpired term and hope to serve as an elected legislator in between legislative sessions. In this situation, the victorious candidate can only keep district constituents engaged and ready for the next legislative session, in 2017, he added.
“It’s like constituent outreach and constituent service on steroids. It’s setting the table for who comes next,” Dawkins said, referring to the May 24 runoff winner.
Lou Miller is a former VIA Metropolitan Transit board trustee who previously was an aide to Mayor Ivy Taylor. On his Facebook campaign page, Miller said he can offer “innovative ideas and bring seamless commitment to the people of District 120” on issues such as education, economic development crime and healthcare.
Attempts to also reach Miller and Thompson for comment were unsuccessful. Thompson is a publisher, certified mediator, and a public involvement and community outreach consultant. On her campaign website, Thompson said she wants to be an advocate for small business owners, the arts, transportation improvements, and widening access to technology.
Should VIA Leave Castle Hills?
Castle Hills voters are being asked two questions via ballot propositions: Continue VIA service inside city limits? If no, should revenue from the half-cent sales tax used to fund local VIA service be used to support the creation of a municipal development district? If voters say “yes” to discontinuing VIA, then the vote on the second proposition will be disregarded.
Every few years, Castle Hills residents discuss the pros and cons of opting out of VIA service in city limits, which includes bus, VIAtrans and vanpool service.
In the past, some residents have argued that the revenue generated by the half-cent sales tax could better support legally applicable city functions or projects. The same residents have said they are more concerned about adequately addressing much-needed road and drainage improvements.
In fiscal year 2015, the tax generated $491,947. Adding line service and VIAtrans passenger fares in the same fiscal year, the revenue level for VIA rose to $642,451. VIA spent a total of $1.62 million for basic line and VIAtrans service in Castle Hills in FY 2015.
Others have said VIA remains vital to many residents who rely on mass transit for trips for errands, and to out-of-towners who count on the bus to come into the city for business.
More than 35 residents joined city officials in a town hall where VIA representatives provided information. In 2015, VIA provided 557,000 total trips through Castle Hills. Buses provide 19,000 hours, or 325,000 miles, of service annually in the small city. Seven bus routes run through Castle Hills, totaling 79 stops inside and along city limits.
VIAtrans provided 2,143 trips in 2015, and had 21 residents registered for VIAtrans service. About 57% of trips involved non-residents traveling from outside Castle Hills coming into town using VIAtrans. In 2014, issues raised by local officials prompted VIA to re-evaluate bus service along Northwest Military Highway and re-route one route to serve the city’s commercial center, along Loop 410 between West Avenue and Northwest Military.
Additionally, VIA has allocated $380,000 of Federal Transit Administration funds for passenger amenity improvements in Castle Hills. If Castle Hills votes to opt out, the city would be obliged to reimburse the VIA more than $810,000, a figure based on current financial status and accounting standards. VIA’s plan to switch its entire bus fleet to a compressed natural gas fleet is reflected in the obligation dollar amount.
Many of the residents at the town hall voiced support for VIA for one reason or another. Mayor Tim Howell and most of the City Council members at the town hall either expressed appreciation for VIA or at least residents’ ability to vote on continuing service. The San Antonio Express-News recently ran an oped by State Rep. Diego Bernal (D123), who represents Castle Hills.
Bernal asked local voters to keep VIA.
“Although this vote is framed as one that concerns money and resources – eliminating bus service in favor of directing those funds to streets and drainage – it is really about something else: people.”
Howell said this week he generally supports public transportation, and disagrees with suggestions that the city may need to raise property taxes to bolster revenues if VIA remains. He added that with more businesses and companies setting up shop inside Castle Hills, such as the new corporate buildings for Pape-Dawson Engineers and Bank of San Antonio, revenues and more economic development opportunities will follow.
“I am not going to turn my back on transportation and economic development, or our residents, senior citizens, students and workers who use VIA,” Howell said.
VIA President and Jeff Arndt said as his agency serves 13 total cities and more than 1,200 square miles, VIA enjoys a strong working relationship with Castle Hills in which residents and visitors get solid services and a good value.
“We respect the right of their citizens to have a say in continuing to partner with VIA, and we look forward to continuing to provide bus, paratransit and van pool services to Castle Hills should their voters elect to remain in the VIA service area,” Arndt said.
Aside from the VIA proposals, Castle Hills voters will elect either Margo Pena or J.R. Trevino to the Place 1 council seat. Incumbent Lesley Wenger did not file for another term. Former Mayor Bruce Smiley-Kaliff is challenging incumbent Douglas Gregory for the Place 5 council post. Council Place 4 incumbent Frank Paul is running unopposed.
Alamo Colleges Trustees
District 1 incumbent Joe Alderete, and intergovernmental affairs consultant, will face a challenge from Adán Hernández, a local artist.
District 2 incumbent Denver McClendon will need to defend his seat against three opponents. Elmo Aycock, Viviana Valdez Sandoval, and Marc Deadrick are all vying for the seat. All three are veteran educators. Aycock and Valdez have taught in SAISD, and Deadrick currently teaches in the Alamo Colleges system, a position he would have to relinquish if elected to the board of trustees.
District 3 incumbent and board chair Anna Uriegas Bustamante faces two challengers, Joschua Beres and Anthony Alcoser. Beres is an artist and filmmaker. The Express News reported that Beres is running as part of an opposition slate organized by Philip “Felipe” Vargas, who is running for the District 4 seat, as well as a spot on the Southwest ISD school board. The opposition slate is opposed to board’s acquiescence to Chancellor Bruce Leslie.
In District 4, Vargas is running to unseat incumbent Marcelo Casillas. Winners in Districts 1, 2, and 3 will serve the full six year terms, but in District 4 the winner will finish the remaining four years of Albert Herrera’s term, after his resignation last year. Casillas was appointed to temporarily fill the position in May 2015.
North East ISD
Trustee positions for Districts 1 and 5 of North East ISD (NEISD) will be on the ballot.
Two at-large trustee positions are on the ballot for Southwest ISD.
Incumbents Ida Sudolcan and Sylvester Perez will be running to keep their seats, challenged by Phillip “Felipe” Vargas and Chris Villarreal. The two candidates with the highest total votes will be the winners.
East Central ISD
East Central ISD will put an $86.1 million bond before voters for projects to keep up with the districts growing enrollment.
The bond proposes the construction of an entirely new pre-k through 5th grade elementary school, and new pre-k & K classrooms at Harmony Elementary School, Pecan Valley Elementary School, & Sinclair Elementary School.
The bond proposal also lists classroom improvements and facilities increase overall student capacity by 1000 students. Other projects included in the proposal include a new district performing arts center, improved American Disabilities Act compliance, increased connectivity. Various improvements to older or outdated facilities are also included.
Judson ISD has broken their bond package into four separate propositions.
Proposition 1: up to $135,900,000 for modernization of facility systems and technology hardware across the district
Proposition 2: up to $73,080,000 for two new elementary schools
Proposition 3: $51,650,000 for phase II of Mackey High School
Proposition 4: $5,200,000 for the districts debt on Kirby Middle School refurbishment after a 2012 fire.
Top image: Early voters walk to the polling site at Lions Field. Photo by Scott Ball.