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May 2 elections called off, not so for May 26

Friday, March 20, 2020 by Jo Clifton

After Gov. Greg Abbott’s proclamation Wednesday allowing political subdivisions to postpone elections planned for May 2, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir announced Thursday that Travis County would not be conducting any elections on that date. Most if not all of those jurisdictions will be holding their elections Nov. 3, along with all the other elections planned for that day, including the presidential race.

But the state could still face some virus-related challenges with regard to the May 26 Democratic and Republican runoffs. Although Democratic Party leaders have called on Abbott to allow all voters to participate by mail in the May 26 election, he has not responded to that suggestion so far. And while Abbott has the authority to call the July 14 election for the successor to Sen. Kirk Watson, he apparently does not have the authority to change the date of the May 26 runoffs.

Attorney Buck Wood, an expert on Texas election law, told the Austin Monitor the governor could call a special session of the Legislature in order to change the dates, “if he thinks there’s enough of an emergency.” Wood said Abbott could try to change the date of the runoff, though “anyone who went to court” to challenge that action would likely win.

Both Democrats and Republicans have important races that were not decided in the March 3 primary. For example, Democrats MJ Hegar and Royce West are in a runoff to determine who will face Republican Sen. John Cornyn in November. Locally, there are several races not yet decided, including the contest between Margaret Moore and José Garza for the Democratic nomination for district attorney and the race between Laurie Eiserloh and Delia Garza to determine who will be the next Travis County Attorney.

Although Austin gave up on May Council elections when the city switched to single-member districts in 2014, there are still a number of jurisdictions that were planning May 2 elections prior to the emergence of the coronavirus. Those include Round Rock, Cedar Park, Pflugerville, Taylor, Hutto, and West Lake Hills, among others.

One little-noted jurisdiction planning an important election on May 2 was the Shady Hollow Municipal Utility District.

MUD Board President Ron Stried explained how changing the election from May to November will make life more complicated for the small district in Southwest Travis County.

The MUD has struggled with the idea of being annexed by the city of Austin. It reached an agreement with the city in 2013 and the city took over water and wastewater services for the MUD area. That was in anticipation of city annexation in December 2020, Stried explained. However, some Shady Hollow residents hired a lobbyist who worked on a bill sponsored by Sen. Donna Campbell and state Rep. Vikki Goodwin requiring an election for voters to decide whether they wanted to be annexed.

That election has not occurred, but if the MUD is not going to be annexed, its leaders want to take over water and wastewater services again. Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros declined to discuss the matter, saying it was in the hands of city lawyers.

The district was planning to have elections on May 2, not only for board members, but for a tax rate increase to put more money into the district’s operations and management budget. That was in anticipation of not being annexed and having the district take over the water and wastewater services again.

Stried said district officials have been discussing the matter with city officials and if the MUD starts operating again, they will need more money. A November election makes that more difficult. He explained that they have to figure out their budget by the end of September and tax rolls are normally certified in October, before an election on raising taxes can be held.

“So we may be stuck with having the same O&M this year. … It’s just something we’re going to have to work with,” he concluded.

According to the newsletter of the Shady Hollow Homeowners Association, another outstanding issue between the MUD and the city is the future of the city-owned fire station on Brodie Lane.

Photo by Eric (HASH) Hersman made available through a Creative Commons license.

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