Despite coronavirus outbreak, Agua SUD may hold election in May

1 year 7 months 4 days ago Monday, March 23 2020 Mar 23, 2020 March 23, 2020 8:00 PM March 23, 2020 in News - Local
The Agua Special Utility District board held a meeting Monday to discuss whether or not to postpone the May election. (Photo by Dave Hendricks / KRGV-TV.)

The Agua Special Utility District might hold an election during May — in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak and without help from the Hidalgo County Elections Department.

During a special meeting on Monday afternoon, the utility board authorized General Manager Jose E. “Eddie” Saenz and attorney Frank Garza to research alternatives that would allow the utility district to hold a May election anyway.

“I would prefer May because I know those candidates have gone out there and spent their money on their signs,” said utility board President Lloyd Loya. “And I don’t think they want to wait six months for the November election. It’s going to be a pretty jam-packed election in November. So, personally, I think we should keep it in May.”

Local governments across Texas, including the utility district, which provides water and sewer service to more than 15,000 customers in western Hidalgo County, hold non-partisan elections in May.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, however, Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Wednesday that local governments may delay their elections until November.

“I strongly encourage local election officials to take advantage of these waivers and postpone their elections until November,” Abbott said in a statement. “Right now, the state’s focus is responding to COVID-19 — including social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. By delaying this election, our local election officials can assist in that effort.”

After the announcement, the county Elections Department canceled a contract to manage the May election, said Garza, an attorney who represents the utility district.

“The county Elections Department has decided not to participate and handle the election this coming May for Agua SUD, despite the contract we had entered with them. It’s something that is allowed, for them to not participate, given the governor’s executive orders dealing with the current COVID-19 situation,” Garza said. “So, in that regard, your election for May is still scheduled. However, you do not have an entity that is willing to run it.”

Garza presented the utility board with two options: Delay the election until November or authorize Saenz to research alternatives.

“My recommendation is to at least allow the general manager to seek out election services companies and bring that back to you all at the next meeting,” Garza said.

Director Esequiel “Zeke” Ortiz Jr. motioned to allow Saenz and Garza to review options that would allow the utility district to hold the election in May.

The motion passed 5-0 without any discussion. Director Adolfo Arriaga and Director Ivan Sandoval didn’t attend the meeting.

Ortiz, who is running for re-election, said he would prefer to hold the election in May.

“We’re going to see if it’s even feasible,” Ortiz said.

Social distancing and other precautions may allow the utility district to safely hold the election in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, Ortiz said. First, though, the utility district must research the logistical hurdles involved.

“If it doesn’t happen, we’ll wait until November if we have to,” Ortiz said.

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