For the first time in recent city history, public pressure led a public official to reopen applications for a traditionally nonpartisan position on a board of commissioners after the original application period had concluded.
During a Feb. 22 City Council meeting, Mayor Rusty Brockman broke from protocol when he reopened the application for the position on the New Braunfels Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, a move that came as a surprise to council members and residents in attendance.
Colette Nies was anticipated to be appointed to the board during City Council’s Jan. 25 meeting, but Brockman pulled the agenda item and delayed the decision until the Feb. 22 meeting, citing emails sent by concerned residents regarding Nies’ appointment.
On Feb. 22, council heard more than an hour of public comment from residents who both opposed and supported Nies. The discussion centered heavily on politics and called into question whether the decision to reopen applications was driven by overwhelming public outcry against her appointment.
Nies holds a Master of Science in social work in community administrative leadership from the University of Texas and has been involved in community development and social policymaking in Texas for more than 20 years.
In addition to having served on several boards in the city over the last six years, Nies ran as the Democratic candidate for Comal County Commissioner Precinct 3 during the November 2020 election—a race she lost to Republican incumbent Kevin Webb.
Several residents spoke up to oppose Nies’ approval during public comment at both meetings and pointed to her criminal record and her political stance as the cause for their concern.
“This isn't about right or left, conservative [or] liberal, but we are a conservative town,” said New Braunfels resident Timothy Davis, who echoed the predominant opinion of those in opposition to Nies’ appointment. “We have lots and lots of support, and we are going to be loud. We're going to keep speaking.”
Regarding her criminal record, Nies said the charges are related to an attempted sexual assault she experienced in the mid-2000s, as well as a misdemeanor charge related to marijuana possession in 2002.
Though many meeting attendees spoke against Nies, a large number of supporters showed up to vocalize their support for her appointment, though not all were allowed to speak because the allotted time ran out.
“I think that the appointment for the housing authority position has absolutely nothing to do with your political affiliation,” New Braunfels resident Heather Oslon said. “If you have an applicant that more than qualifies for this position, I can't understand why it would be postponed any further.”
Setting a precedent
In New Braunfels, the City Council has the authority to make appointments to 21 of the city’s 31 boards and commissions. The remaining appointments are overseen by other entities, with the housing authority board being the only strictly mayoral appointment.
The housing authority board members are responsible for ensuring residents have access to safe and reliable housing, regardless of income, disability or special needs. Many of the residents the commission serves are senior citizens.
Though the mayor is not required by state law to present his or her choice for the appointment to council, past leaders have done so as a courtesy. Brockman continued the gesture with regard to Nies’ nomination, according to Assistant City Manager Jordan Matney.
Nies was one of three candidates who applied by the original deadline of Dec. 17 and said she was not aware that she was Brockman’s original choice until after the January meeting.
Candidates for boards are not typically notified when they have been selected for a position until after the appointment is approved by council, Nies said.
After announcing that he would be reopening the application process, Brockman cited concerns that interested applicants had not been adequately notified about the process or available board positions.
“We have been, for a long time, trying to get more of our citizens involved in these boards and commissions,” Brockman said at the meeting. “The intent was not to change a process that has been working. The intent was to make sure that we're not leaving people out.”
Several board members questioned the mayor’s reasoning and expressed confidence in the system that has been in place for decades.
“People that desire to be on those boards know where to find these positions,” Council Member Jason Hurta said. “Now, all of a sudden, after it's worked in this city for so many years, now we're going to revisit this process. It doesn't smell right to me.”
Many applicants for city boards have already worked with members of those boards or were involved in related community work before expressing interest in volunteering, Nies said.
“I had attended a few of the housing authority meetings last year and had really done some research [into] kind of how that board had evolved,” Nies said. “While it's not as exciting as say, like a river board, I felt that that's where my skill set would be the most used.”
Brockman ultimately decided to amend the deadline to apply for the housing board to March 9, and Nies said she has kept her application active. Until the position is filled, the current board member will retain their seat.
“When you pander to bullying, you make a precedent, and that's exactly what's happening,” Nies said. “It basically opened up nonpartisan positions to be political, when it wasn't ever before. And that is the crux of this. I do hope it doesn't discourage people from running.”
Vacancies for all city boards can be found on the city website. Background checks are not included in the applications, and the city has no intention of introducing them to the process of making appointments, Brockman said.
Later this year, the council will discuss the possibility of condensing board appointments to be heard by council only twice a year and aligning all term lengths to fit this model, according to Matney.
Reiterating his concerns about the unprecedented move, Hurta said the door could now be opened for a stalemate with regard to appointing members to certain boards in New Braunfels.
“The precedent that you're setting here is that if you don't get enough people to apply for a board, if you don't get the right people or if you get someone that you're concerned about, you are just gonna have a redo,” Hurta said.