By JOHN WAYNE FERGUSON
The Daily News
A Texas appeals court has denied a request made by two of the city’s mayoral candidates to have Jim Yarbrough’s name removed from the city’s May 10 ballot.
The Texas First Court of Appeals denied an election appeal made last week by a lawyer representing two of Yarbrough’s opponents in the race, Elizabeth Beeton and Don Mafrige.
In the one-paragraph opinion, the court wrote that the request to compel the city to declare Yarbrough ineligible was denied and all outstanding motions were dismissed as moot.
The dismissal decision was made by a three-judge panel consisting of Justices Evelyn Keyes, Jane Bland and Harvey Brown.
Reached Tuesday afternoon, Yarbrough said he was pleased with the court’s decision.
“It kind of confirmed what I’ve been saying,” Yarbrough said. “As I’ve said from the beginning, I know I’m eligible to run, and if they want to chase it down more rabbit trails and spend more city money fighting this thing, if that’s what they want to do and not talk about the issues, it’s fine with me.”
The challenge to Yarbrough’s candidacy was centered around a homestead exemption that he had on a home in Fayette County in 2013.
The city’s charter includes a requirement that all City Council candidates meet certain residency requirements for at least one year before an election.
Last month, Mafrige produced documents through public records requests that showed that Yarbrough had not removed the homestead exemption on his Fayette County home until September 2013.
Mafrige and Beeton argued that because the exemption was in place on May 1, 2013, Yarbrough should be declared ineligible.
Yarbrough, for his part, maintained that he had always lived in Galveston, and the homestead exemption was only moved to his ranch home in Fayette County after he sold his house in Galveston in 2011.
In a response filed Monday by Yarbrough’s attorney, he said he did spend a majority of his time — four days a week — in Fayette County while on a sabbatical from October 2011 to September 2012. But, Yarbrough said that he began living full time in Galveston again in late 2012.
Yarbrough and his lawyers maintained that legally the date that the homestead exemption was removed did not matter, because it took an effective date of Jan. 1, 2013.
Yarbrough said, after removing the exemption, he paid all of the taxes associated with the Fayette County home as if the exemption never existed.
On March 12, a lawyer representing Mafrige and Beeton requested that City Secretary Janelle Williams rule on Yarbrough’s candidacy after presenting her with the new information. On March 13, Williams ruled that Yarbrough would be eligible to run.
On March 27, Beeton and Mafrige brought their argument to the court, requesting an accelerated appeal and hoping that the court would order that Yarbrough’s name be removed from the ballot.
The dismissal was announced just before 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Whether this is the last of the issue still remains unclear.
Reached Tuesday, Mafrige said he was consulting with his legal team to decide if there was another step to be taken.
Mafrige maintained that he believed his objection was a valid one, but acknowledged that a continued fight over the issue could affect voters’ opinions of him.
“I really haven’t had enough time to determine what our next step would be, in any,” Mafrige said. “If he is a candidate, I think it might affect some of the voters’ opinion of whether it was a frivolous suit or not. From our perspective, it was a very valid suit.”
Beeton, too, said she would need to consult with Mafrige and their attorneys to explore any continued challenges and said that there comes a point when an issue is left behind.
“We have already passed that point,” Beeton said. “It’s a risk to raise an issue and not get a full hearing or an explanation of what the reasoning is.”
Beeton also said she would consider Yarbrough a valid candidate for the remainder of the campaign and was ready to begin “talking about the real issues of the campaign.”
Though the dismissal was made without comment from the justices, there is a possibility that issue could result in changes to the city’s charter.
In court filings made Mondays, lawyers representing both Yarbrough and the city agreed that the way the charter is currently written, residency rules might not apply to Yarbrough or any other candidate for mayors.
The city’s charter, the lawyers argued, separates the City Council into two distinct groups, the council members and the mayor. The qualifications for each candidate are listed in separate sections of the charter.
In Section 2 of Article II, the charter declares that the residency rules should apply to council members who are elected to represent a district and who are elected “at large.”
However, as the council is currently constituted, there are no at-large positions, only district positions.
Section 7 of Article II outlines the qualifications for mayor but does not as explicitly list the residency requirements as the City Council section does.
Instead, the charter says “the incumbent ... shall possess the same qualifications as those prescribed in this Charter for a Council member.”
Since Yarbrough is not an incumbent, the lawyers argue, and is not running for a council seat, the rules for residency do not apply to him in any sense.
“It is admittedly an unhappy result to have one residency requirement for incumbent candidates for mayor and a different one for non-incumbents,” wrote Senior Assistant City Attorney Donald Glywasky in the city’s response.
The justices did not respond to that or any other argument.
“It’s always helpful when a court states (its) reasons to provide guidance if similar issues arise in the future,” said attorney Anthony Brown, who represented Yarbrough.
“However, given the very short time constraints imposed by the delay in filing, we really couldn’t expect a lengthy opinion.”
The ballots that are to be used in May’s election are scheduled to be printed Friday, according to the county election office.
Galveston’s municipal election will be held on May 10.
Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.