A judge restored Sylvia Gonzalez to her Castle Hills City Council seat on Monday, hitting the pause button on controversy that recently roiled the tiny enclave on San Antonio’s North Side.
Lawyer Art Martinez de Vara said Judge Peter Sakai of the 225th District Court granted a temporary injunction against the Castle Hills City Council on Monday evening and directed its members to allow Gonzalez to operate in her official capacity as alderwoman. Sakai set another hearing for Aug. 9, said Martinez de Vara, who is representing Gonzalez, Alderwoman Lesley Wenger, and Alderman Mark Sanderson.
“The judge used the word ‘reinstate,’ but we don’t like that word because we think she was never vacated,” Martinez de Vara said. “But either way, the City cannot interfere with her performing her duties now. The judge did place one restriction on the Council: no personnel matters to be decided until the next hearing. That binds everyone on City Council.”
Gonzalez was elected to City Council in May. Castle Hills City Attorney Marc Schnall declared Gonzalez’s seat vacant earlier this month because she was sworn in by Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar. Sheriffs are not one of the officials permitted to administer the oath to elected representatives under Texas law.
Though the litigation affects only Gonzalez, Wenger and Sanderson joined the suit as plaintiffs. The three serve on City Council with two other aldermen and often vote the same way. The mayor votes only in the case of a tie.
“Lesley [Wenger] and Mark [Sanderson] were seeking simply to enjoin the city attorney from interfering with the meetings because the last two meetings were canceled because the city attorney declared Sylvia Gonzalez’s seat was vacated and there was no quorum,” Martinez de Vara said.
Mayor JR Treviño said he was present in the courtroom during Monday’s hearing. He said he believes Schnall’s reasoning in declaring Gonzalez’s seat vacant was sound.
“The opinion the city attorney had was based on an opinion from the secretary of state and Texas Municipal League,” Treviño said. “That’s what we were basing things off of so far.”
Schnall did not respond to requests for comment.
Gonzalez has pushed back, saying at a meeting last week that a sheriff has sworn in other Castle Hills aldermen.
Martinez de Vara also argued in the petition for temporary injunction that Gonzalez is qualified to serve as an alderwoman and that the City of Castle Hills should not interfere with the voters’ choice to elect Gonzalez.
In a separate controversy, Gonzalez and Wenger were arrested last Thursday. Gonzalez is accused of misdemeanor tampering with a government record, and Wenger faces two felony charges: fraudulent use or possession of identifying information and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence. The arrest affidavits said the women’s alleged offenses stemmed from their desire to oust Castle Hills City Manager Ryan Rapelye.
Gonzalez, Wenger, and Sanderson did not respond to requests for comment late Monday.
Everyone can agree the situation at Castle Hills City Council is not normal, but that does not matter, Treviño said.
“We have no option but to continue operating the City and giving residents the service they expect,” he said.