Beginning at 5pm tonight, the city council will be discussing charter revisions with Julie Tandy, Steve Trine, Jim Badalementi and Jim Carson. Should be fun. Cable channel 27 or 31. I’ll post my notes on this later.
Later in the evening, the city council will be discussing the TIF restructuring Doug and I have been talking about for weeks (and years).
Update: Here are my notes for the Charter meeting:
Section 2.02 General Powers Adopted
I do not favor adding Charter language that explicitly embraces the power to borrow money and sell bonds for economic development.
Section 3.01 Number, selection, term.
Background: I think Keller is a wonderful city with relatively few problems as compared to other cities. But there is always room for improvement. Based on prior experience, I believe Keller’s greatest need for improvement is voter apathy. The people I talk to are often well-informed on the politics and policy of Washington, but poorly informed on Keller’s issues. The really sad part is that they have far more power to effect change in Keller than Washington. Undoubtedly, the lack of well-informed voters is a key reason for our single-digit voter turnout percentage.
From this principle, I am an ardent supporter of well-contested elections. While far from perfect in terms of informing the voters, I can’t imagine achieving a dent in voter apathy without them.
I am against adding a seventh member to the council for this reason. Adding a seventh council member would only dilute the pool of qualified candidates and result in fewer contested elections and greater voter apathy.
Mr. Lowry seems to accept as axiomatic that the council should have an odd number of voting members to avoid tie votes. Why? I see nothing wrong with tie votes—they just mean the motion does not carry. What’s fundamentally wrong with that?
If tie votes are really a problem, it’s best to leave the council as it is. The only way to have a tie is if both the mayor and exactly one council member are absent, which is rare. But with a voting mayor and a sixth council member, the far more common case of one council member absent results in the possibility of a tie vote.
I mildly favor extending the term of council members to three years. Mostly because of the extraordinary learning curve required. While this may result in fewer contested elections, I rather doubt that it would, and even if it did, the extra year spent learning the ropes is worth it.
I mildly disfavor term limits. Term limits arbitrarily throw out the good with the bad, and do nothing to better inform voters.
I strongly oppose districting. Keller, despite a few squabbles, is remarkably demographically homogenous. As such, there is no reason to expect that any candidate from one section of town would fail to fairly represent residents of another section of town. Plus, districting would dramatically reduce the pool of qualified candidates for well-contested elections.
Section 3.05 The mayor.
I am ambivalent about giving the mayor a vote. What I would like see the council and Charter Commission discuss is, not just a mayoral vote, but the full range of customary executive powers, including voting, veto power, and line item veto power over the budget.
Section 3.11 Prohibitions and ethics
Though I’m against term limits for council members, I am very much in favor of term limits (sorta) for key staff. But since that’s not on the agenda, see me if you’d like to discuss.
Section 5.01 City manager.
“Someday, [not appointing a city manager to a defined term] could cause a problem for the city, as the practice when hiring a city manager generally involves a contract in recent years.”
The “practice” in recent years is wrong, at least for Keller. When the Charter restricts the council to working solely through city manager for the administration of virtually all functions, it is crucially important for the council to maintain power and authority over the city manager. Just imagine the insult of having to buy out for hundreds of thousands of dollars a city manager whose incompetence and/or moral turpitude has already embarrassed the city.
Section 7.02 Petition
As a general rule, I think recalls, initiatives and referendums should be difficult, but doable. Keller has only had two successful petitions in the last fifteen years, so I feel strongly that the petition process is difficult enough.
I would suggest that the too subjective language “adopt such ordinance or resolution without alteration as to meaning or effect in the opinion of the persons filing the petition” be amended to “such ordinance shall be liberally construed in favor of the petitioners’ intent.” Or something like that.
There is precedent for such language. In Brown v. Todd, argued October, 2000 before the Texas Supreme Court, the Justices ruled:
We noted further that because the people’s initiative and referendum power is reserved, not granted, to them, “such charter provisions should be liberally construed in favor of the power reserved.”
I’d like the council to consider breaking these ballot measures into two separate votes. Given the number of changes that need to be made, I’m very worried that voters will be overwhelmed with all the items. Would you consider putting all the noncontroversial items on the November ballot, and the controversial items on the May ballot?