Questions surround legitimacy of swearing in of Castle Hills City Council member

CASTLE HILLS, Texas – A Castle Hills City Council leader could be forced to vacate the office to which she was newly elected after questions were raised about the legitimacy of her swearing in oath.

Sylvia Gonzalez won the council Place 3 seat with 52% of the vote May 4. Ten days later, she took her oath, given by Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar before the City Council, city manager and city attorney.

On Tuesday, City Attorney Marc Schnall explained to the council that the situation was brought to his attention that her oath may not have been legitimate since it was not given by someone qualified to do it. 

Under Texas law, the sheriff is not among the listed people who can administer the oath of office, nor is he a notary public. The sheriff is only allowed to give the oath to deputies.

Persons who can administer oaths include municipal judges, judges or commissioners of the court of record, justices of the peace, other judges, notaries public, certain state officials and a peace officer if the oath is administered when the officer is engaged in the officer’s duties and the administration of the oath relates to the officer’s duties.

City Council officials would not comment on camera about the situation, only saying they are exploring the possible options they have to move forward. One option could be to have City Council appoint Gonzalez to the seat until the next election.

Frank Garza, a municipal attorney not associated with Castle Hills, said this situation is unchartered territory.

“There is a case out there that basically says who has the authority to swear in and the time period and the case, and the attorney general has interpreted saying that if a person is not properly sworn in within 30 days, they may have vacated their office,” Garza said.

But the issue also raises questions about the votes and actions Gonzalez took while it was believed she was properly sworn in.

“My understanding is everything at Castle Hills has been mostly a 3-to-2 vote,” Garza said. “It was a 2-to-2 tie because this person would not have been able to vote. The mayor then has the tie-breaking vote.”

Garza said it’s very complex because this situation has not been looked at in case law in the past. Several issues and lawsuits could come about if the situation is not resolved, he said, including some that could cost the city.

The city attorney is currently investigating the options the city has to move forward. City Council business is on hold until the matter is resolved.

Gonzalez issued the following statement:

“Since I was sworn in on May 14 I have been repeatedly harassed by the Castle Hills Police who work for City Manager, Ryan Rapelye. On July 9 as we were preparing to start a Council Meeting. I was forced into a meeting in the City Secretary’s office by City Attorney Marc Schnall, his associate Paul Fletcher and Mayor JR Trevino who, I understood, was the complainant regarding whether I was properly sworn in.  The City Attorney informed me that my seat was vacated and that I could not be seated at the meeting and furthermore that everything I had voted on from June 3 was null and void. He said this was because I was not sworn in by Sheriff Salazar until May 14.  This whole experience has been disappointing and upsetting, I spent months walking all over the city speaking with residents in Castle Hills. I met an apparent new record by speaking to residents in over 500 homes about their concerns.  I do not feel it is a coincidence that as the first Hispanic woman to be elected to Castle Hills City Council. I have become this type of target, but I do not believe, based on the people who live here and voted for me, that these actions are a true reflection of the city as a whole.”

KSAT reached out to Castle Hills Police Chief Johnny Siemens said his department is not in the business of harassing anyone. He said they value their relationship with the citizens and business owners and added that they exercise due diligence with regards to criminal complaints.

Siemens sent KSAT the following statement: 

"I am completely unaware of any such complaints from Mrs. Gonzalez and would suggest further inquiry into these baseless complaints as we simply do not engage in harassment or any other questionable behavior. Simply not who we are or the culture we have at this agency.  

More aptly, not how we carry ourselves as you probably already know.  We place a premium on fair and impartial application of the law and treating people with dignity, fairness, and respect." 

Rapelye sent KSAT the following statement: 

"This is the first time I have heard of this complaint from Sylvia Gonzalaz, I categorically deny Ms Gonzalez’s accusation and find the statement defamatory and insulting to me professionally and the reputation of the Castle Hills Police Department."

About the Authors:

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.