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Elfant, Sonleitner both considering run for County Tax Assessor

Friday, September 16, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Former Travis County Pct. 2 Commissioner Karen Sonleitner told In Fact Daily that she is seriously considering a run for Nelda Wells Spears‘ soon to be vacated Travis County Tax Assessor/Collector seat. Sonleitner’s participation would change the dynamics of the elevation in office for long-time Pct. 5 Constable Bruce Elfant, who has made no secret of his desire for the position.


Spears announced her intention to retire on July 29. She and her top deputy, Dusty Knight—who also announced his retirement—will leave the tax assessor’s office on December 31. The Travis County Commissioners’ Court will appoint an interim assessor sometime before the end of the year.


Spears has served as Travis’ Tax Assessor for more than 20 years. When she leaves in December, there will be one year remaining in her term. The court was poised to simply hand the position to Elfant, but, should Sonleitner, or any other Democrat, elect to run, court members would likely appoint one of Spears’ current deputies to serve as a caretaker until the position can be filled by ballot.


The names on that list include tax office employees Tina Morton, Stan Wilson, or Renea Deckard. None of those potential appointees is rumored to have interest in running for the office.


Elfant, on the other hand, has a Facebook page dedicated to his potential candidacy. But he has yet to start a campaign: He’s currently bound by election rules that would force him to resign his current post, should he formally announce his intention to run for tax assessor before December. Current law sets that date as one year before the term ends but Texas voters are scheduled to decide in November whether elected officials may announce their intentions 13 months before their terms expire without losing their jobs.


Sonleitner is currently not an elected official, so she isn’t faced with the same burden. Still, she was coy about her intentions. “I’ve been encouraged by people I respect to seriously consider it,” she told In Fact Daily. “I’m seriously considering it.”


She said that she’d know whether or not she would enter the race in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Sonleitner was careful to point out that Elfant knew of her interest. “Bruce is one of my dear friends,” she said.


Sonleitner added that she might not be the only one to challenge Elfant. “The seat hasn’t been open for 20 years,” she said.


Current Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt unseated Sonleitner in a 2006 primary challenge. That race, which centered on the construction of toll roads in the area, represented Sonleitner’s last run for public office. She currently works in the Travis County Auditor’s office.


Any race against Elfant, who carries a broad swath of political support, would be something of an uphill battle for the former commissioner.

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