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Rockport residents question May election, mayor denies wrongdoing

KRIS 6 News graphic
Posted at 10:19 AM, Oct 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-04 19:18:01-04

ROCKPORT, Texas — Some Rockport residents say the councilman for Ward 3 got on the May ballot without the proper documentation.

The city says it was a clerical error.

Brad Brundrett ousted incumbent Bob Cunningham by 39 votes. Brundrett says when he went to City Hall to turn in his 18-page petition for a place on the ballot, he realized the signature line at the bottom was blank.

He signed the bottom of each page, certifying he was the individual who circulated the petition and followed the steps outlined in the Texas Election Code.

Multiple pages show signatures collected in Rockport on February 9 and 10. But a time card obtained through a Public Information Request shows Brundrett working at a fire station in Missouri City, right outside of Houston, during those two days.

Brundrett doesn't dispute he didn't collect the signatures and says when he realized the petition pages were blank he asked Rockport Mayor Pat Rios what he should do. He says Rios told him he could sign his name.

Brad Brundrett timecard
Brad Brundrett timecard from Missouri City.

Rios disputes this.

"I don't oversee petitions when they come in," Rios said. "I don't look at applications, anything like that, that's totally false, I have no jurisdiction over them."

Rockport resident Andrew Kane contested this petition with the city in March.

"There's reasons for that law," Kane said. "So we can verify that the people, actually you're witnessing the signatures on the page that you're turning in."

Corpus Christi City Secretary Rebecca Huerta handles election records for Corpus Christi. She says whoever collects the signatures for a petition must sign an affidavit that confirms they witnessed each voter sign the petition.

"The laws are set up to maintain a consistent fair process that is neutral," Huerta said. "You don't want a lot of discretion when it comes to election matters, I guess over, you know, beyond common sense things, because you don't want to show any kind of favoritism to a candidate. I follow the law."

Rios also disputes there was any formal contest of the petition.

"It wasn't contested. It was, I don't know what the word was but there was a complaint filed, about the process," Rios said. "It was relayed to me that it was more of a clerical issue, nothing that would stand in the way of the validity of the application on the ballot."

Kane sent multiple emails to the city, including the city secretary and the mayor, before the mail-in ballots were printed. He also spoke at city council meetings and spoke to the city secretary in person about the problem with the petition.

City Secretary Teresa Valdez responded to Kane by email on March 23, telling him she had followed up with the City Attorney's Office and the Secretary of State's Office.

In the email to Kane, she responded, both entities told her "there are no other actions for me to follow up on to respond to your claims.”

City Secretary email
Email from Rockport City Secretary

According to 141.032 of the Texas Election Code, "unless the petition is challenged, the authority is only required to review the petition for facial compliance with the applicable requirements as to form, content, and procedure."

Kane says that he provided evidence the signatures of Brundrett were not valid and sent emails asking for Brundrett to be removed from the ballot.

In an interview with KRIS 6 News, Brundrett says he realized his error and asked for his petition to be returned before the election.

"It was truly my error. I took some bad advice. They just said it was no issue," he said.

He said when he asked for his petition pages back he was told there was no issue with the petition, adding he was willing to be removed from the ballot and run another time.

Huerta says once a candidate files a petition it's an official document and cannot be returned.

Cunningham had served as a city councilor for two years and say when he learned what happened with the petition he was disappointed.

He reached out to the Attorney General's office and didn't receive a call back.

"This was a circumstance where there was a clear problem with an opponent being on the ballot and there wasn't much I could do from a legal perspective," Cunningham said.

And while Rockport resident Jeff Hutt says he is happy with the job Brundrett is doing he says he shouldn't have been on the ballot.

"In the letter of the law, in the spirit of the law, the candidate should have been kicked off of the ballot, and not allowed to run," he said.

Meanwhile, Kane wants accountability from the city.

"What I want them to do is to look into what happened," he said. "Find out who's responsible for it, and hold them accountable that way the citizens of Rockport have trust in our local government when it comes to our elections."

Rios says the city will take a look at its procedures, but there are no plans to investigate this event further.

"Well, we're certainly going to take a look at our procedures, we always do, but again, without any pressure, direction, or follow up from the secretary of state's office or the attorney general's office, we're just going to be more careful," Rios said.

KRIS 6 News asked the Attorney General's office if it was investigating this election.

They say they can't divulge information on an existing investigation.