The Town of San Felipe canceled its May 2 election because there are only three candidates for the three open seats on the town council.
That didn’t sit well with the other three candidates who had their applications rejected, including two incumbents. The three of them – incumbents Kent McAllister and Cynthia Kelly and newcomer Jeffrey Davidson – complained at the March 10 town council meeting that they were being treated unfairly by City Secretary/Election Judge Sue Foley. The council nonetheless voted 3-2 to cancel the election without discussing the motion amongst themselves. Prior to the vote, the three rejected candidates and two other members of the public spoke out.
“I’m very, very disappointed,” Davidson said, “very disappointed in the election judge, very disappointed in this town that you will allow that to happen. That should not happen when we all know each other in this town,” he said.
Davidson said he turned in his application to Foley on Feb. 7, a week before the Feb. 14 filing deadline. He attended the Feb. 11 town council meeting and nothing was said to him.
“Also, on Feb. 20, a letter was mailed, 11 days after I submitted my application, of my being rejected,” he said.
He said his application was rejected because he wrote his name in the wrong box. He said he wasn’t going to appeal the decision and added that as a Christian he would pray for the council.
McAllister was notified by Foley in a letter that he did not include the office sought on the application, even though it is clearly stated at the bottom of the application near his signature. He accused Foley of retaliation because he and Kelly initiated a criminal investigation by the Texas Rangers and District Attorney Travis Koehn into the town’s finances and numerous other issues.
“Cynthia and I noticed what we thought were financial irregularities and we began researching them,” McAllister said. “That led to the auditor confirming some of our concerns and I think that we are, by law, whistleblowers and protected by state law. And I believe I’m being retaliated against for my involvement in that investigation.”
He said he and Kelly filed a complaint with the Texas Secretary of State and said a decision was still pending.
“I don’t believe it was a mistake that I was eliminated or rejected,” he said.
McAllister made a motion to table the cancellation for one month to allow the Secretary of State’s office time to rule on their complaint. That motion failed 2-3 with Kelly and McAllister being the two to vote for it.
Kelly said she never did receive a letter from Foley stating why her application was rejected.
“I had to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) the application to find out why I was rejected,” she said. “It was a clerical error. I admit. We all make these mistakes from time to time. My concern about that is that a clerical error should not disqualify somebody from being able to run for office.”
She said that the three rejected candidates, “should have the right to correct their applications, correct their errors, and run and let the people decide who they want to sit on their council.”
Michael Skrivanek, former chairman of the Austin County Republican Party, said clerical errors shouldn’t disqualify a candidate.
“As the Republican chairman for 18 years I’ve accepted applications every time people put the wrong date and all kinds of stuff,” he said. “I’ve always accepted them. The Secretary of State’s office always says to accept these.”
Barbra Zeigler, whose husband Jeff Zeigler is a former alderman, insinuated sinister dealings in town government.
“It appears that at every meeting of late some kind of inappropriate dealings have been brought to the surface,” she said. “It seems like everything from the town audit revealing inconsistencies with how town funds are spent to improper annexations bringing property into the town, and now we have these elections. From what I can see from the proposed ballot for the May election it appears the citizens of San Felipe are not able to vote for who they want for city council. That right for the people to vote for who represents us has been taken away by the election judge.”
“Why is this? What’s the explanation for it?” she continued. “Is it an attempt to cover-up something that’s going on? It appears to be very suspicious.”
Zeigler continued with her comments when Mayor Bobby Byars interrupted her.
“Are you going to address the topic that we’re fixing to vote on? Then you’d better address it in a hurry because all of this is way off topic,” he said.
After Zeigler finished, Byars went on the defensive.
“I have been attacked on these councils for the last five years,” he said. “Facebook has attacked everyone on this council for the last three years. I have not said one negative word about anybody up here on Facebook. Not one. But we want to talk about Christianity tonight? The Bible says judge not lest ye be judged. I read these Facebook pages and I see who’s commenting on it. So these very people who are telling us about Christianity tonight are saying all these ugly and negative remarks about people up here and this town’s getting a bad name.”
Once the discussion ended, Byars called for a motion. Alderman Alfred Hall, one of the three candidates on the ballot along with Michael Elliot and former alderwoman Branda Newsome, made the motion to accept the election ballot. With no further discussion, it passed 3-2 with aldermen Derrick Dabney, Larry Gentry, and Hall voting for and Kelly and McAllister voting against. The next item on the agenda was cancellation of the election. Hall again made the motion and it passed with the same 3-2 split.
Foley defends herself
In a phone interview with The Sealy News on March 20, Foley defended her actions in rejecting the three applications. She said as the election official she has five days after receiving an
application to review it. She said she found errors on all three and sent each candidate a form letter with checked boxes indicating the reason for rejection.
“We’re supposed to notify the candidates and that’s basically what I did,” she said.
She said Kelly had two blanks on the application that were not filled in. McAllister did not fill in the office sought in the top blank, and Davidson put his name in the blank at the top where the name of the town should have gone.
“There is no conspiracy here,” she said. “I have to treat everyone fairly.”
District Attorney Travis Koehn confirmed there is an investigation into the allegations but declined comment.
“Allegations against city officials in San Felipe are currently under investigation by law enforcement,” he said in an email. “The appropriate law enforcement agency has been receiving updates on any connected matters. Since the investigation is ongoing, my office cannot provide more information at this time.”