City Council wasn't consulted on election issue

Mauricio Julian Cuellar, Alice Echo-News Journal

In a 5-2 vote, the Alice ISD School Board decided to hold their next trustee elections in May of 2009 with the City of Alice, instead of November 2008 with Jim Wells County, despite no formal conversations having taken place between the school district and the city on holding joint elections.

The city this year declined to hold joint elections, Board President R. David Guerrero said during this week's board meeting, because the county had just created the new position of Elections Administrator.

Guerrero said he had held an informal conversation with Alice Mayor Grace Saenz Lopez about the possibility of holding joint elections, and she said that although she couldn't speak for the city council members, that the city might be open to the suggestion.

Board members Cirilo Zamora and Roger Saenz, who voted against the motion, were adamant that the board should consider holding joint elections with JWC, especially AISD Superintendent Henry Herrera and AISD Attorney Jim Erck met with JWC Elections Administrator Pearlie Jo Valadez, County Clerk Ruben Sandoval and County Judge L. Arnoldo Saenz on the issue of joint elections, and the county seemed very open to the idea. Zamora and Saenz had made an earlier motion to move the elections to Nov 2008, but the motion died with five board members voting against.

Zamora said it would make more sense to have the joint election with the county, since the board knows for sure that the county is interested. At the time of the meeting, no conversations had taken place yet between the city and the school district on joint elections. Guerrero said that the county deal isn't a sure thing, since the county commissioners were not asked about the possibility of a joint election with the school district.

The decision is necessary so that the board can proceed with state plans to have school district move from the staggered three year terms to four year terms, and to have those entities align themselves with other local entities for joint elections.

Saenz said that as a board, the group owed the taxpayers the earliest opportunity to make a decision when it comes to their board trustees. He said that a Nov. 2008 election would provide the earliest opportunity, and save the taxpayers money in the long run when it came to costs on ballots and other election materials.

Board member Tony Bill suggested that the board proceed to pursue an arrangement with the City of Alice, and that if that should fall through, then the board can always come back and proceed with the county on the issue. A joint election does not necessarily mean having the same ballot or using the same election judges. Assistant Superintendent Dr. Melonae Day said that under state law, the only requirement for an election to be considered joint is to hold the election proceedings at the same location.

The election change is due to new state laws requiring Texas School districts to hold joint elections with local entities in order to save on the costs involved in elections. Saenz said the decision to go with the county would benefit the district, since it would take away the uncertainty of election equipment availability, save the district money through joint proceedings, and give the voters an earlier decision.

Jim Wells County is the only entity in the county that has its own electronic election equipment. Valadez said after the meeting that the county is open to helping any entity with the election process and that if the district decided to go with the city, both entities would still have to go to the county for equipment and voter registration material.

Board member Guadalupe Martinez said that the time issue really isn't a factor, since every trustee would be given an extra six months anyway, due to the election change.

Zamora stated that he had already given solid reasons for moving the elections to November including the fact that more voters come out to the November elections than the May elections, Zamora said, and that the Texas Association of School Boards said they wanted to increase voter participation.

The motion that was approved by the board, with a 5-2 vote, will push the elections of Yolanda Bueno and Tony Bill to 2009, and Guerrero and Lee Ramon would come up for reelection in 2011. Saenz, Zamora and Martinez would also come up for election in 2009, at which time one of the five trustees would have to decide on a serving only a two year term, so that the board would be on a 3/4 trustee election schedule for four-year terms. Board members have yet to decide by what means the decision will be made as to who will run for a four-year term. Zamora presented information he received from TASB attorneys that stated such selections should be made by independent means, such as drawing lots or flipping a coin.