Council disagrees whether withdrawal signals new mayor

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

May 14, 2013 at 12:14 a.m.
Updated May 15, 2013 at 12:15 a.m.

Will Armstrong's last act as mayor - to hand over the gavel - ended in a deadlock battle punctuated with name-calling, allegations of secret meetings and illegal amendments.

After reviewing his decision with three attorneys to withdraw from the runoff election, Armstrong was certain Tuesday's council meeting would be a short one.

Instead, it closed after an hour of heated discussion with no decisions made. The council will meet again May 21 to accept the votes and decide a runoff election date for a remaining council seat.

As soon as Armstrong opened the public hearing to accept the election results and declare Paul Polasek mayor, Clara Ramos, a Victoria resident, raised an objection.

"I'm here because I don't believe it can just be handed over that way," Ramos said.

She asserted if Armstrong was out of the race, the runoff election should move forward with Polasek and Omar Rachid on the ballot for mayor.

Rachid came in third place, behind Armstrong, in the May 11 general election. In complete but unofficial results, Polasek received 1,951 votes, or 37.7 percent; Armstrong received 1,617 votes, or 31.2 percent; and Rachid received 1,153 votes, or 22.3 percent.

Ramos and several council members said Polasek should not be given the office when the city charter requires a candidate to win by a majority, 50 percent plus one vote, rather than a plurality, which is the most votes.

Councilman Emett Alvarez attempted to pass an amendment that would put Rachid on the ballot for a runoff, a move City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz called illegal.

Alvarez's amendment prompted the heated debate over how to move forward with naming the next mayor.

Throughout the arguments, Polasek remained an observer.

"I feel stuck in the middle of all the legal opinions and whatnot," he said. "I was fully prepared to have a runoff. I'll do it if the law says I have to. I'm fine what that."

Rachid urged Alvarez to rescind the amendment to change the names of the runoff candidates.

"The responsible thing to move forward is to rescind the amendment," he said. "It is up to the council, then, whether to proceed into investigating home charter versus state law and move forward from there."

Gwosdz said because Armstrong withdrew from the runoff, the city charter points back to the state election code, which states the remaining candidate, Polasek, is considered to be elected.

According to the secretary of state, the deadline to withdraw in a runoff election is 5 p.m. on the third day after the main election.

Gwosdz said he got an opinion from District Attorney Stephen Tyler, who agreed the city charter points to the state election code, meaning Polasek would be mayor because the charter does not address withdrawals.

Alvarez said if that's the case, it is "an infinite loop."

"I'm going to suggest that the charter rules," he said. "The charter calls for a majority vote of all votes cast. We need a runoff."

Elections Administrator George Matthews quoted opinions from the secretary of state supporting the move to name Polasek mayor.

"The top two vote-getters are the only two that can be involved in a runoff, whether one withdraws or not," Matthews said. "I understand what you're trying to say: If the top vote-getter withdraws, the next should get it. The elections code doesn't allow that, and the city charter doesn't say anything" to that.

Alvarez said after the meeting that his concern is the city attorney did not discuss with the council why it would move forward with Armstrong's withdrawal.

"Typically, when you have legal issues like this, we hear from the city attorney," he said.

Councilman David Hagan accused Armstrong and Polasek of meeting behind closed doors, allegations which Polasek called "ridiculous."

Armstrong informed Polasek Monday of his intentions, with the city attorney and city manager present.

Hagan said he wants time to research the election law himself.

"Forgive me if I don't take the attorney's opinion," he said. "I haven't had a very good track record with city attorneys' opinions at times."

Linda Armstrong defended her husband's reasoning to withdraw.

"If all of this is not right, let's put Will's name back in there and do the runoff, and Mr. Polasek will win," she said. "All this bickering is ridiculous."

However, Gwosdz said he is uncertain whether Armstrong can retract his withdrawal of the runoff.

By the time Councilwoman Josephine Soliz joined in the verbal scuffle, arguing Armstrong's withdrawal isn't enough to make someone mayor, Councilman Tom Halepaska made it personal.

"Straighten up," he told her. "You've been an embarrassment for a while. She embarrasses all of us."

Soliz let the name calling continue, saying Halepaska was "like a little kid."

Because the council did not take any action, Jeff Bauknight, who won the District 3 seat, was not able to take the oath of office.

He said he was not expecting the controversy.

"It seems like the city attorney has done his homework," he said.

Until the council makes a decision May 21, Polasek will remain in the District 3 seat, and Armstrong will remain mayor.

"I'm out either way," Armstrong said. "I know what my position is."

Polasek said the bickering is not good for the community.

"I'm surprised and disappointed," he said.



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