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Commissioner appointment lacked transparency

January 10, 2019

The appointment process for the Precinct 2 commissioners court seat should have been more transparent.

We take no issue with the appointee. Justin Rodriguez, 44, is well qualified to fill the seat left vacant by the sudden death of Commissioner Paul Elizondo. He has served the community well as a prosecutor, school board member, city councilman and state representative.

But the process to fill this unique vacancy should have allowed for more public input and given residents in the precinct an opportunity to put in a bid for the appointment.

Elizondo’s replacement is appointed for a full two years, the political ramifications of which are tremendous. The new commissioner becomes an incumbent when the position appears on the ballot to determine who will fill the remaining two years of Elizondo’s term.

In the last 44 years, incumbents on Commissioners Court have lost just five elections, successfully regaining their seats 90.7 percent of the time and winning with an average of 10 points over their opponents in primaries and general elections, according to an Express-News analysis. Incumbents also tend to have a campaign war-chest advantage coming into every race.

In a letter to Wolff, Queta Rodriguez, Elizondo’s opponent in the Democratic primary runoff, questioned the lack of “a fair, open and transparent” selection process and the lack of a woman on the county’s governing board.

“Your decision to ignore the fact that nearly half of the constituents who voted in the most recent primary election for this particular seat have already indicated who they would like to see fill this position undermines the will of the people, your commitment to transparency, our democracy and those you are elected to serve,” Rodriguez said.

Vacancies in county elected offices are not unusual. Commissioners are called on to fill vacancies when members of the judiciary move on to higher office or resign. In such cases, the selection is made by the four commissioners and county judge after an application process and screening of interested parties.

But in the case of commissioners, the Texas Government Code gives the appointment to the presiding member of Commissioners Court. In Bexar County, that is Judge Nelson Wolff. But even if the code gives the judge this authority, a more open process is preferable.

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