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“SOME VOTERS FELT UNCOMFORTABLE…”
FORMER COTULLA CITY HALL BECOMES NEW POLLING HEADQUARTERS
The former Cotulla City Hall at 117 North Front Street will undergo modernization and transformation this summer as the La Salle County government proceeds with a plan to move its elections office to the site.
Built a century ago to replace one of a set of buildings destroyed in a fire, the onetime City Hall is part of Cotulla’s historic business district that faces the Union Pacific rail line in the middle of town. It lies within the preservation zone whose buildings have been highlighted by the Cotulla Main Street Program for their architectural features and their significance to the community’s history.
Cotulla City Hall was moved to a new location at the corner of Main and Carrizo streets two years ago after the city dedicated a portion of its Hotel Occupancy Tax revenues to the historic preservation and repurposing of a building that had once served as a garage and filling station. Since that move, the city has retained ownership of its Front Street building but has examined lease options, either for retail business or office space.
The move by La Salle County was given further impetus in late May, when county commissioners agreed unanimously to spend $15,000 from the elections office budget and $12,000 from the general fund to further adapt the Front Street site for use by the elections office.
City Administrator David Wright said this week that an agreement between councilors and county commissioners has begun taking effect and that the building will remain city property but will be occupied by the county government in what he describes as a non-monetary lease.
In exchange for having use of the building, the county’s elections office will operate the municipal elections from the site in addition to its own county government elections, Wright said.
“This is the trade-off, and the council was behind that agreement a hundred percent,” the city administrator said. “It works out for us, and it works out for the county. This was the barter, if you want to put it that way.”
At the La Salle County Courthouse, the move is being seen as a practical one as well as an effort to increase voter comfort.
County Judge Leodoro Martinez III said this week that the additional space offered by the 117 North Front building is a secondary consideration to an issue related to the way the county courthouse operates during election periods.
“We have to close the courthouse down on election day, and during the early voting period there is voting going on downstairs in a building that is occupied by the county’s elected officials,” the judge said on Monday. “We believe that there was a feeling of intimidation among some people. I believe that some voters felt uncomfortable going into the courthouse to vote, and there was a sense of fear among some of them.
“When you’re dealing with elections of public officials, you want all the people to feel safe and free from threat or any other issue when they go to vote,” the judge added. “I want all the people to vote, and I want no one to feel intimidated.
“Another of the issues we had was regarding elected officials working in their offices during election periods,” Martinez said. “Some were concerned about leaving their offices, just while conducting county business. Nobody wants to be accused of electioneering or campaigning just because they talk to the public during their daily county business.”
The judge and commissioners set a $30,000 limit on expenses related to the move and adaptation of the former City Hall.
“One of the advantages to the site, for voting purposes, is that it sits within Precinct 5, and it’s a far better place for a polling station than the old American Legion Hall,” the county judge said.
The county expects to have finished its elections office move within the next two months.
“We won’t have to close the courthouse at taxpayers’ expense for elections anymore,” the county judge said. “The move makes sense in a lot of respects.”