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2016-07-07

So, where did all the city voters go?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The agenda of the Thursday, June 16, meeting of Bandera City Council included an item that might change the way municipal elections are held. But, then again, according to Mayor John Hegemier, it might not, because as he later put it, “There really doesn’t seem to be much interest in it.”
Former Mayor Don Clark backed the proposal. Hegemier championed adopting “a place system for election of Aldermen” to council as opposed to an at-large system that has been used for many years. At the time, he noted, “I think this has some value.”
In a subsequent interview, Hegemier added, “When I was running, I didn’t want a place system. It seemed much more antagonistic than simply running at large.”
Hegemier also explained that the place system is something that Clark had hoped to implement for some time. “I promised him I would put it on the agenda,” Hegemier continued.
To bolster an argument for place elections, Clark told city council, “The county doesn’t elect commissioners on an at-large basis.”
Former Mayor Linda Stein pointed out, “The county is divided into precincts and that has nothing to do with a ‘place’ system.” Later in the discussion, Clark ceded Stein’s point. Additionally, Hegemier noted that the place system has nothing to do with geographic locations within the city limits. Two neighbors can run for the same place on the ballot.
Councilman Rebeca Gibson recommended that the city sponsor a campaign to get people to register to vote and to increase voter participation, saying, “If we can’t do that, we’re not doing our jobs.”
Clark had decried the fact that “only 109 voters” had cast ballots in the last city election – although Hegemier considered that number incorrect.
Given previous voting numbers, Clark’s estimated low voter turnout is alarming. According to Courier statistics – and the 2010 census figures – Bandera’s population is 857. Since 139 of those counted were under the age of 18 years and ineligible to cast ballots, that left 718 eligible voters. Of the city’s 676 registered voters, approximately 87 appeared to have been suspended, which left 589 prospective voters. Using these numbers, an incredible 82 percent of the city’s population has been registered to vote.
Recent voter apathy notwithstanding, when Clark ran for mayor in 2012, he received 224 votes, garnering an impressive 69.78 percent of the total cast, while then-Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher received just 97 votes for 30.22 percent of the total. Doing the math, 331 registered city voters cast ballots in that mayoral election.
Using those numbers, it would appear then that when Clark retired from politics so apparently did a majority of voters in the City of Bandera.
In the 2014 mayoral election, Hegemier snagged 117 votes with Brian Black breathing down his neck with 111 votes. Maggie Schumacher came in a distant third by garnering only 32 votes. In the 2014 election, 260 proposed city residents participated in the mayoral election. Even so, those numbers seemed impressive.
Gibson said, “I don’t think voter participation demands a ‘place system’.”
Many who attended the meeting concurred, expressing concern that a less-than-a-majority of the voters would use a place system to rid council of “aldermen” they considered “undesirable” or “bad.”
In a nutshell, in a place system, challengers must designate whom they will run against. As it was explained, “If voters saw where a change needed to happen, they could vote to effect that change.”
In the past, candidates simply tossed their hats in the ring. Depending on the number of seats available, candidates who received the most votes were declared winners. Essentially candidates ran against themselves.
Undeterred, Clark suggested that the place system be put on the ballot during the November General Election to allow city voters to decide. Joe Hearne concurred.
Parenthetically, Art Crawford likened the proposal to “… having the trolls count their own gold.”
In the end, Mayor Pro Tem Jim Hannah advocated postponing a decision. However, the consensus seemed to be to put the proposal on the ballot during this fall’s presidential election and let city voters make the final decision.
As Hegemier explained later, city council could possibly approve putting a place system of voting on the ballot; however, a petition signed by a percentage of city voters could not be used. According to the Texas Municipal League, Bandera, as a Type A General Law city, does not have the right to petition to include items on a ballot, Hegemier indicated.
And, he added frankly, “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for the change.”