City of Ingleside councilmembers voted Monday to remove mayor Ronnie Parker, invoking a mechanism in the city's charter which gives the council that power if any member misses three-straight meetings without a reason it considers valid.
However, the city's voters approved an amendment in May which changed the charter — the operational rules of the city. Its new wording allows council members to miss six meetings in a 12-month period without losing their seat.
Wednesday, Parker challenged his removal based on that wording. His challenge was validated by city attorney Michael G. Morris.
Resident Lupe Barron has lived in Ingleside for 32 years she said. She said she mostly keeps to herself and doesn't get political, but she does usually vote in the city's elections. She did not in May, however.
When she does vote, though, she admit she doesn't look at the ballot language very closely.
"No," she said. "I don't. I'll be honest with you. I don't."
She said in a town like Ingleside, it's common for people such as herself to cast their vote based on what they hear around town or who they know.
"It's a smaller town," she said.
Councilmember Steve Diehl said Wednesday he thinks the confusion comes from the city's charter-review committee's intent to consolidate the two rules. Members would be allowed up to have six total absences in a 12-month period, but if three are consecutive and unexcused by the council, they lose their seat.
"That's a lot already," said Ingleside resident Yohan Martínez. "If you miss three times, that's a good amount of times that you can skip going."
Martínez didn't live in Ingleside when the vote was taken to amend the city's charter, but is curious as to why residents who did vote for the change thought it was necessary.
He said he considers three missed meetings a lot, but understands that it's unavoidable if someone gets sick, has a family issue come up, or has to leave town.
"But that would be considered the three opportunities that you have to miss, because how many issues are you gonna have that you're gonna put in front of your job?" he said. "I don't think that people vote for a person to be in charge, then this person is not able to do the complete job."
Standard operating procedure
Several cities in the Coastal Bend have similar removal rules to Ingleside's original charter.
Mathis allows for council members to miss three consecutive regular council meetings with a pre-approved leave of absence in Article II, Section 11, item 6 of its charter.
Under its Qualifications section, 2.02, Sinton council members forfeit their seats if they miss three consecutive regular meetings "with or without case."
Aransas Pass City Secretary Mary Juarez said its city charter doesn't have a mechanism for removing city council members.
Corpus Christi's charter language is similar to Mathis', but also adds in Article II, Section 11 that absences can be excused if they are due to circumstances which are out of the council member's control.
City Secretary Rebecca Huerta said one such instance happened in 2014, when councilmember Priscilla Leal suffered a major stroke.
"The Council voted to give her a leave of absence to allow her to recuperate without removing her from the City Council," Huerta said in an email. "Other than that, since I’ve been city Secretary, it has not been an issue."
Missing during action?
Both Barron and Martínez feel strongly that elected officials should be present as often as is possible.
"If you don't show up, that means you don't care," Barron said. "Especially more than three, more than two (times). I feel you have to be there to support the city. So, I really do think it has a big effect if they're going to miss six or seven or eight times."
Ingleside's Martínez said he plans to be ready for the next election.
"We have to be proactive on these kind of issues," he said. "If we have a voice we have to use it and let everybody know what we think."
Which is one of the reasons the change to the charter concerns him. He said that if elected officials are allowed to be absent from council meetings, it could affect how efficiently the city is run.
"It's important," he said. "I don't think that it would be good for them because, then how many persons can skip at the same time? The whole council? How are we gonna make sure we can meet with these people for important issues when we need them all to be there."
He said the whole council needs to be able to hear citizens' and business-owners' concerns in order to work better for them.
"Because then you're going to be missing — you have two, three missing — and you're not going to be able to say what you have to say and make people work on these issues, and they're really important," he said. "Or they don't know exactly what is going on, or they don't know what was your opinion or what you think about it. Or at the end, how are they going to take their own choices if they don't know exactly what's going on?"