Small Towns, Big Loopholes: Joshua’s Mayoral Election
Citizens of Joshua are facing a locked door and a lack of confidence in the integrity of their November 23rd Mayoral Special Election. Could the current administration of Joshua use gray areas and loopholes in the code to steal a hotly contested election? That is the question many are asking in Joshua right now.
A Brief History
Earlier this year Kenny Robinson defeated 3-term Mayor Joe Hollarn. The Citizens of Joshua wanted a change. Then, after less than three months in office, Mayor Robinson resigned.
Robinson stated in a letter addressed to city officials and the Joshua City Council that the “wants of the city manager and members of the city council are at a difference.” He further stated that “The stress from the differences has caused me health issues. After discussion with my wife and family, it is with a heavy heart and much praying I have decided to resign as mayor of Joshua effective immediately.”
The conflict in Joshua is one that is common in small-town Texas today, economic development. The big question is should Joshua retain its country living feel or focus on growth into a larger city. Those that supported Kenny Robinson don’t want Joshua to become another Frisco.
The candidates vying to fill the vacant seat are formerly ousted Joe Hollarn and Robert Fleming. Hollarn is once again backed by those that want to push for growth and Fleming’s supporters are largely the same as those that backed Robinson. Hollarn’s advantage is the backing of the City Manager and City Council, especially since that City Council appointed City Manager Josh Jones to administer the election and serve as Election Judge for the City’s single precinct.
The previous Mayoral Election was administered by City Secretary Lisa Cabrera. She did not administer the November elections as she was terminated by the City Council in October. Her termination came after Mayor Robinson vacated his office and not long before the election of his replacement. The Council remains tight-lipped on the cause for her termination. The City Secretary vacancy appears to have paved the way to appoint the City Manager. The City Council held a Special Council Meeting November 14th to appoint City Manager Jones to the Early Voting Clerk position (election administrator) for the November 23rd election as well as ratifying his actions as Early Voting Clerk for the November 5thelection. This action was clearly after the fact, but the Secretary of State tends to look the other way when cities make “mistakes” like this.
While this appointment is legal, many citizens of Joshua feel the fox is guarding the henhouse. This sentiment is further aggravated by the polling location’s locked door.
There is only one voting location and it is inside City Hall behind a closed, locked, door that requires a code for entry. When a voter enters City Hall, the City Manager is paged, he enters the room from an interior door, lets the voter in, and processes the voter. If the City Manager is not available, the Assistant City Manager/Election Clerk processes the voter. This process makes some voters uneasy.
The City may argue that this is the best procedure to both keep the ballots safe and save money for the city. However, there have been reports of voters showing up to the polling location, finding the locked door and no one at the reception desk, and leaving without voting. This is very problematic. How many voters’ votes were suppressed by this setup? This election could be determined by a handful of votes, so every vote does matter. Hopefully, those voters will return on Election Day, but they may not.
The City of Joshua did not contract with Johnson County for this election so the voters cannot turn to the County for assistance. They must instead appeal to the Secretary of State (SoS). The SoS can bring in State Inspectors to oversee the administration of the election and ensure its integrity. Candidate Robert Fleming has made those appeals if only to reassure the citizens of Joshua. However, as of the posting of this article, calls to the SoS have not been returned.
Over a dozen bills were filed in the Texas Legislature in the 86th session that dealt with uniform election dates. Uniform election dates would demand that City and ISD elections be held on the same dates as County and State Elections. This would be a huge step toward ensuring that cities and school districts would contract with the County for their elections. Ultimately contracting with the County adds an extra layer of oversight and impartiality to the election.
Unfortunately, all of these bills failed along with most of the other legislation that would have improved election integrity in Texas. We must now wait until the next session in 2021 to help cities like Joshua.