Scheduled to hold an election Nov. 7, Rollingwood City Council on Sept. 6 certified the unopposed status of the election, allowing incumbents Michael Dyson and Bobby Dillard to retain their positions. Candidate Wendi Hundley was named to fill the one vacancy on the council.
“When things are happening in the city that people get riled up about, then [residents] are in [City Hall] to file to be a candidate,” Rollingwood City Secretary Robyn Ryan said. “But this particular year and the two years before—silence.” “We’ve had some people who were involved in other boards and commissions that mentioned they might be interested in stepping up, so they did when seats became available.”
Rollingwood is the third such cancellation of 2017 in the Lake Travis and Westlake area, which also saw elections canceled in May for positions on the Eanes ISD and Lake Travis ISD boards of trustees. Of the three seats up for election in West Lake Hills this May, only one drew competition.
A growing trend?
Since 2013 the cities of Bee Cave, Lakeway, Rollingwood and West Lake Hills have canceled 11 of 20 possible elections combined for city council positions due to a lack of challengers; EISD and LTISD have canceled five of 10 possible elections.
Last spring EISD resident Jessica Sentz filed to oppose incumbent Christie Bybee in Place 1 but withdrew soon after the filing deadline. Although three residents initially filed for a vacancy in Place 3, two withdrew, leaving John Havenstrite as the lone candidate. Jason Paull was the lone candidate for the vacant seat in Place 2. All three were appointed to the board in May.
Incumbents William Beard and Bob Dorsett drew no competition in the LTISD spring election and are serving another term on the board.
However, Dorsett was involved in a contested election in May 2016 when first joining the board. Dorsett ran and won against one candidate to finish the remainder a term for Dawn Buckingham, who stepped down in 2015.
Dorsett, who also served on Bee Cave City Council from 2009-13, said when a seat becomes vacant on a board, candidates show more interest than they would against an incumbent.
Up for re-election after less than one year on the board, Dorsett believed he did not draw competition this spring in part because of campaign fatigue after a contested season the year prior.
“I know how ugly elections can get now,” he said. “I believe it was a combination of residents being OK with things in the district and not being interested in getting into the mudslinging that can occur.”
Dave Taylor, who served on Lakeway City Council from 2009-16 and now serves on the city’s planning and zoning commission, said he believes as demographics in the area skew younger, fewer residents are interested in serving due to the time commitment and conflicts with work schedules.
Why Run For Office?
Dorsett said every candidate has his or her own motivations to run, whether it is a passion to serve the community, an urge to support a local need or a way to prevent change.
The cities of Bee Cave and Lakeway both had contested city council elections in May. Five candidates ran for three seats in Bee Cave, with the three incumbents retaining their positions by receiving the most votes. In Lakeway three candidates ran for two open seats, and the incumbents were again victorious.
West Lake Hills Mayor Linda Anthony said candidates tend to emerge out of hot-button issues, creating an ebb and flow to the political cycle. If there are no topics rocking the community, there is less interest in running for public office than there would be during a bond election or after a new development proposal.
“If people are happy with the status quo, then things roll along until people are unhappy or start to feel like their voices aren’t heard,” Anthony said.
Taylor said when an "outsider," or someone who has never participated in politics or has a single-item agenda, runs against an incumbent, he or she usually draws less support.
The last time an incumbent lost an election in the area was in the 2015 Lakeway City Council election. With two council seats available, Ron Massa and Bridget Bertram both defeated incumbent Phil Brown. However, both Massa and Bertram had previously served on city commissions.
“There are a number of candidates that come out of the blue and have not served in any capacity but want to run for office,” Dorsett said. “They do not have the same likelihood to get elected as someone who has served in some capacity the preceding years. The experience and name recognition helps.”
Before serving on Bee Cave City Council, Dorsett said he worked with the city and school district to coordinate the community’s annual summer parade.
As a member of the council, Dorsett said he felt like he could better serve the community on the school board in the future. As a result, he kept in touch with prominent members of the district to stay knowledgeable about issues and board dynamics.
“People who stay connected are going to know the issues and be more prepared to serve,” he said.
Ryan said understanding how a city’s different boards and committees work make a better candidate and council member.
“Going into public service was something completely new,” Taylor said. “It’s a learning and a growing experience, and knowing you might be doing something good for someone you live right around the corner from is very satisfying.”
Anthony said she does not believe the lack in candidate interest is an issue in West Lake Hills, where residents approach council members with comments and concerns.
“Residents are actively engaged, whether they chose to run for office or not,” she said. “People here have no shyness about reaching out to any of us on the council if they think we’re going down the wrong path. It’s an ongoing community dialogue that is healthy.”
Taylor said finding people who are interested in serving in various volunteer capacities is a challenge Lakeway is trying to overcome.
“We encourage anyone who has an interest in volunteering with the city to fill out an application or come by City Hall and let us know [that they are interested],” Lakeway Communications Coordinator Devin Monk said. “We would be happy to find a place for them, and we hope a role on a board or commission can be a training ground for that experience they might [need] to run for City Council.”
“It’s not a bad thing to have competition. It’s what our system is about,” Dorsett said. “It's designed so we have to put ourselves out there and make sure we’re still accepted by the voters.”