As a relatively new Castle Hills resident, I am appalled by the pettiness, drama, and poor public service on City Council. This dysfunction is not good for morale or functionality of city services, and it leaves no room for progress within our city. Over the last month, with the censorship of citizens voices at council meetings, the arrests, the temporary restraining order, and council meetings not occurring, we are all left wondering what is going on in Castle Hills.
Our city and citizens deserve better. My family and the families we have come to know, deserve better. But, due to poor leadership on council, the citizens of Castle Hills are forced to wait for resolution. While we wait, we must organize.
My husband and I bought our first – and what I hope to be our forever – home in Castle Hills in March 2018. We chose to live in Castle Hills because we loved the area and thought it would be good for our growing family. Within a week of moving in, I changed our voter registration so we could vote in the upcoming May election.
We settled into our home with our new baby girl (born two days before the May 2018 election) and 2-year-old son. Over the last year, I kept up with our city’s policies and politics through the Nextdoor app and Facebook. I could not attend Council meetings because my priority was bedtime with my children, so I watched from a distance as my new city began to go downhill.
During the months following the May 2018 election, Castle Hills positions were removed from the budget, effectively firing an employee. A few employees chose to resign due to increased hostility between Council members and the city manager. A local government functions best when it has a city manager who is allowed to manage the day-to-day functions of the city and a City Council that sets sound and fiscally prudent policy. When either role overreaches, issues arise.
In November 2018, I helped put together a petition in support of our city manager, Ryan Rapelye, who was described by someone I trust as the most professional and experienced city manager our small city has ever had. In May 2019, I supported JR Treviño in his bid for mayor and was relieved he won, but unsure how he would make any progress with the council members he would be joining.
In early July, the Castle Hills City Council voted to move public comment to the end of Council meetings. A better solution is to strictly enforce time limits and remove disruptive audience members. Limiting citizens’ chances to be heard prior to a vote on a matter because a few are disruptive is an extreme response and indication of poor leadership.
On July 18, two Castle Hills City Council members – Lesley Wenger and Sylvia Gonzalez – were arrested in relation to the employment and possible firing of Castle Hills City Manager Ryan Rapelye. Wenger was arrested on two felony charges of tampering with evidence and fraudulent use or possession of identifying information, and Gonzalez on a misdemeanor charge of tampering with a government record.
Less than a week later, these council members were in civil court suing over the legitimacy of Gonzalez’s oath of office and whether or not she qualified to take office. The allegation is that, under the local government code, a sheriff is not allowed to administer the oath of office for a council member, and therefore she may not be qualified to serve.
Both council members who were arrested are innocent until proven guilty, but our city will suffer while we await the outcomes of the criminal justice system. And the pending civil suit is an unnecessary expense to the city and taxpayers. I firmly believe the law should be followed and acknowledge that it may have been violated. However, our newly hired City Attorney Marc Schnall was present at the swearing in and said nothing about Gonzalez being sworn in by Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar at the time. A temporary restraining order was issued allowing Gonzalez to remain on Council pending a full court hearing, but all Council meetings have been halted until further resolution by the court.
While we are waiting, we must organize. Castle Hills citizens deserve better, but we will only get there if we engage in our local government. In the May 2019 election, about 37.7 percent of Castle Hills’ voting age population voted, with about 33.6 percent in May 2018. As of today, our Council is made up of individuals that only one-third of our voting age population elected. Regardless, the Council members at issue were elected by a majority of voters, so if they will not resign on their own accord, then we must move past calling for them to resign, and look to the next election instead.
I have spoken with MOVE Texas and the League of Women Voters San Antonio about holding voter registration drives for Castle Hills citizens leading up to the 2020 elections. Castle Hills residents, please register to vote (30 days in advance of an election) and then turn out to vote on May 2, 2020 (or during the early vote period). Let’s organize and make our voices heard. Don’t let the embarrassing antics of our city council dissuade you from participating in your local government. Your local government is what affects you most on a daily basis, so make sure your voice is heard, you are registered, and you show up to vote in May 2020.