Sweetwater officials have preliminarily approved an increase in the bond amount candidates post to put up their campaign signs within city limits.
But increasing the bond amount now would mean that candidates who now file before the March 26 deadline will have to pay twice as much as the other candidates who already posted bonds with the city clerk.
For the first time in years, Sweetwater voters have options: Four candidates are running for mayor and three of the seven commission seats up for grabs.
This is also the first election since the outbreak of scandals following the arrest and conviction of then-Mayor Manuel “Manny” Maroño in 2013, and residents can wipe the slate clean as they get to choose who to keep in power.
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The unprecedented number of candidates — and their abundance of campaign signs — prompted city officials to approve in first reading an ordinance that would would increase the bond from $50 to $100 for posters that are equal or less than 36 inches long and $200 for posters that are larger than 36 inches long.
According the city code, anyone participating in a political campaign must post a one-time bond with the city clerk to put up signs within city limits. After elections, candidates have 10 days to remove all posters or they forfeit the bond, which the city then uses to pay employees to remove the posters.
“It is suspected that unsuccessful candidates will simply abandon their sign bond rather than undertake the expense of removing the signs themselves,” the ordinance reads.
A few hundred dollars’ difference might not make a financial dent to some of the candidates, but it doesn’t put everyone in an equal playing field.
“As a candidate, I am not in equal conditions. I am discouraged by the situation,” said mayoral candidate Douglas Mayorga, who has lived in the city about 11 years and works as the executive director of the Minority Chamber of Commerce. “We don’t have the resources that they have.”
Although campaigning is well underway in the city, Mayorga said he won’t start putting posters to promote himself until next month, closer to the election.
“I don’t consider it appropriate,” he said.
Mayorga says members of the community endorse him, but he has not reported a single campaign contribution. He faces other candidates who have raised upward of $50,000 in their campaigns. Diaz has raised $71,000 and Commissioner Orlando Lopez has $99,500 in donations.
Deborah Centeno, who ran twice for commissioner and is now running for mayor, has about $6,000 in contributions.
“It’s going to be unfair,” Diaz said. “I am going to advise the commission to put it into effect for the 2017 elections.”
While some city officials agree that the bond amount should go up to actually cover the cost of removing campaign posters that are left behind, they realize that the change would put other candidates at a disadvantage if applied to the May election.
“I do agree with it,” Lopez said. “But we didn’t think of it.”
Lopez said he plans on suggesting the city change the ordinance at the next meeting. If approved in second reading, it would go into effect in the next elections cycle.