CENTRAL TEXAS — After Round Rock city officials tried to give themselves an extra year in power, they have now been forced to give local citizens a chance to vote on the matter.
Thursday night, in the Austin suburb of Round Rock, the city council voted unanimously to revive this year’s city election, after initially trying to cancel it until the summer of 2021.
The story began several months ago when the council delayed its originally scheduled May city council election until November after Gov. Greg Abbott allowed it due to coronavirus fears.
After voting to delay the election, Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan joined other cities in sending Abbott a letter requesting to actually host the election sooner than November, saying it would benefit citizens to elect a new council before fall, when they decide on the next year’s tax rate and budget.
However, after receiving no written response from the governor, Morgan and the council changed their tune. Rather than continuing with the plan for an election in or before November, they decided instead to postpone the election until May 2021, shielding themselves from voters—and keeping themselves in power—for an entire extra year.
Mayor Morgan and Councilmembers Tammy Young and Will Peckham—all of whom were up for re-election this year—voted to put off the election.
The council’s decision sparked a backlash in the community, with numerous citizens showing up at council meetings over the summer to testify against it.
“I think it’s appalling and shameful, and it’s really voter suppression,” said local resident Tracy McLain.
“It is an abuse of power for them to extend their own terms in office and shorten their potential successors’ terms,” said citizen Amy Gelfand.
“I think the actions of the council have attempted to subvert democracy in our city, and I think Will Peckham, in particular, is no longer fit to serve,” city resident Paula Thompson told the council. “The fact that he voted to extend his own term rather than to let the voters decide if we want him to represent us speaks volumes to me.”
The mayor said he was concerned local candidates’ names would “get lost” on a November ballot, suggesting voters would somehow be impaired in selecting candidates in the city contests just because federal and state races would appear on the ballot first. He also insisted postponing was a “legal decision” and that it was “ridiculous” and “not factual” to suggest they were giving themselves an extra year in power.
However, soon after his comments, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote a letter to Morgan and the city council, telling them it was unlawful for them to postpone the election in the way that they did, and that they “effectively allow[ed] [the city’s] elected officials whose terms would have expired in May 2020 to continue to hold office for another full year.”
Paxton warned that if the council refused to have their election in November, the city council could be sued—and some could even be removed from office.
“It seems like with a city attorney on staff and with Mayor Morgan himself being an attorney, they obviously knew of the resources available to them to determine whether their decision to postpone would be legal or not,” commented resident Joseph McCullough.
Now, with Thursday’s vote, the city council is bringing back the November local election, and citizens will now have a chance to vote for their Round Rock officials.
“I think this council was relying on a city that wasn’t paying attention to local politics, in order to do whatever they wanted to do,” resident Thompson added at last night’s council meeting.
In addition to the election fiasco, the council also voted Thursday night to raise the maximum tax rate for the coming year. If approved, the median value Round Rock homeowner would pay $36 more in city property taxes next year, despite already paying the city roughly $400 more annually compared to just five years ago.
The council will vote on August 27 to formally adopt the tax rate; until then, Round Rock residents can voice their feedback to the council on the city’s website.