SAN ANGELO, TX – The fight for life continues in San Angelo as Mayor Brenda Gunter fired back at out-of-towner and anti-abortion activist Mark Dickson.
During the speech, the Mayor commended the citizens of San Angelo who worked to complete the petition to make San Angelo a sanctuary city for the unborn. However one of the people she feels is negatively impacting the campaign is anti-abortion activist, Mark Dickson.
"I have said repeatedly from the very beginning when Mr. Mark Dickson showed up to my restaurant to have a discussion with me," said Mayor Gunter. "I said to him then and I say it again. I want the voters, our citizens, to have an opportunity to vote on this issue."
Dickson is known for traveling across the United States and getting towns to outlaw abortion with an "sanctuary city for the unborn" ordinance. The majority of the cities are small towns but Dickson has convinced one major city to outlaw abortion, Lubbock.
In May 2021, the City of Lubbock became a sanctuary city for the unborn. They did this not with a vote from council members. Instead the city of over 250,000 voted in favor of the ordinance through a ballot initiative. Mayor Gunter says that San Angelo's city government should copy Lubbock and let the citizens choose.
"What is so wrong with letting the citizens vote? You believe those of you sitting here today, or in the prior meetings, have a right to speak for all of the citizens?" questioned Mayor Gunter. "We have elections for a reason. To allow our citizens to show their support for candidates or issues. I believe most of you support the democratic way."
See the full speech below:
Prior to the meeting, the City Council received a letter from the attorney of Dickson that claimed that the mayor had violated the Texas Open Meeting's Act. Mayor Gunter addressed the letter in the speech assuring citizens that the alleged violation was false.
"We have listened to you, we have listened to our legal council and we have then taken a vote on [the] next steps forward," said Gunter. "We have not, I have not worked behind the scenes to get the outcome that I want. I have used the legal system to get a direction — meaning a vote of the council. That vote was not what many of you wanted. The timeframe might not be what many of you wanted. These council members sitting up here with me today are and strong, good leaders who have been elected by you."
Late last year, the city council considered the ordinance supplied by Dickson but rejected it. Instead, the council voted to affirm the Texas Legislator's Heartbeat Bill, now law, that allows civil penalties to anyone who assists or performs an abortion inside the state of Texas.
The following is the letter sent to the City Attorney's Office on Feb. 10 from the Najvar Law Firm.:
Dear Ms. James:
I write on behalf of the Initiating Committee for the proposed Ordinance outlawing abortion in San Angelo and declaring San Angelo a Sanctuary City for the Unborn. I am concerned because certain actions taken at the February 1 City Council meeting, particularly in light of disturbing declarations by Mayor Brenda Gunter, indicate that the interests of San Angelo citizens are being frustrated by apparent violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA).
The City Clerk has certified the initiative petition as sufficient and delivered the petition to the Council, triggering the Council’s responsibility to consider adoption of the Ordinance after the required public hearing. The Charter states that the Council has the option to adopt the Ordinance after the public hearing. SAN ANGELO, TEX. CHARTER § 47. In the event that the Ordinance is not adopted in full after hearing from the public, then the Initiating Committee has the right to demand an election on the Ordinance. Id. The Initiating Committee has made clear from the very beginning that if the Ordinance were not adopted in full by the Council, it would indeed exercise its option to require an election, and that it wanted that election to occur in May 2022.
While the Council recognized the sufficiency of the petition at the February 1 meeting, it then summarily foreclosed the possibility of a May election—if, indeed, an election becomes necessary—by scheduling the public hearing a month later, on March 1. This forecloses the opportunity for a May election because any order for an election on the May ballot must be approved by February 18. There was plenty of time for Council to publish a copy of the ordinance as required by the Charter and hold the public hearing on or before February 18, enabling a May election if Council does not approve the Ordinance itself. My clients and, it is safe to say, the thousands of citizens who signed the petition, remain disappointed by Council’s summary decision to delay the public hearing until March 1, without any explanation as to why it could not be done sooner.
But the delay and expense of an election are only necessary if the Council declines to adopt the Ordinance itself after public hearing. In this respect, Mayor Gunter’s blunt comment immediately after the vote is even more concerning. Immediately after Council voted 4-1 to hold the public hearing on March 1, Mayor Gunter stated that the Ordinance “will be on the November ballot.”1 This statement is peculiar, because the Charter first requires the Council, as a body, to decide after the public hearing whether to adopt the Ordinance itself. Yet, on its face, the Mayor’s statement reflects at least her confidence that the Council has already decided that it will not adopt the Ordinance in full, thus necessitating an election. If the Council has already decided it will not adopt the Ordinance, then this decision was made in violation of TOMA, whether it was done in an informal meeting with a quorum or in a series of communications undertaken to avoid a quorum being present at any one time. See Tex. Gov’t Code § 551.143 (setting out offense for prohibited series of communications, formerly known as a “walking quorum”).
Unfortunately, February 1 was not the first time Mayor Gunter has indicated at least her belief that the Council has pre-judged this issue. In June 2021, when pro-life citizens first approached Mayor Gunter about the possibility of San Angelo declaring itself a Sanctuary City for the Unborn, she represented that it had already been decided that, if this issue ever came up, the City would require an election, like Lubbock. Mayor Gunter did not specifically claim to be speaking for any particular Councilmember, but she made this matter-of-fact statement then, as she did again on February 1.
This Ordinance has overwhelming support in San Angelo, as demonstrated by the ease with which the Initiating Committee collected far more signatures than required. San Angelo citizens are entitled to the fair consideration of each member of Council. In that respect, I assume you can understand our concern with the Mayor’s statement. If Council has already decided not to adopt the Ordinance, then the public hearing will be a sham. It cannot be a sham; citizens are entitled to be heard and to view the deliberations of the Council. We will be watching closely and expect that the Council will fairly consider adopting the Ordinance after the public hearing, which would avoid the delay of an election entirely.
Further, I respectfully request confirmation that there has not been, and there will not be, an improper “series of communications” in violation of TOMA designed to pre-judge this issue. I look forward to your prompt response.
Very respectfully, Jerad Najvar