Thursday, October 13, 2011

Richardson City Charter Program: LWV

The League of Women Voters of Richardson plans to hold a public program to provide information to the public about the City of Richardson's charter. The announcement below is taken from the LWV of Richardson's website. If you have a question you want the panelists to answer at the meeting, email program@lwvrichardson.org.


Richardson City Charter Program

Is the city's current charter right for Richardson?


Charter Program

On Wednesday, October 19, 2011, the League of Women Voters of Richardson will present a program entitled "Is the City's Current Charter Right for Richardson?" in the Richardson Room of the Richardson Civic Center.

A reception celebrating the League's 50th year in Richardson will begin at 6:30 p.m., and the program will begin at 7:00 p.m.

Panelists will be:
  • Raymond D. Noah, Presiding Judge, Richardson Municipal Court, Speaking on the background of Home-rule Charter; and
  • Robert C. Lowry, PhD, Professor & Program Head of Political Science, University of Texas at Dallas, Speaking on issues that might be considered in a review of the charter.



Printable Flyer

A printable flyer with details of the program can be found here.

4 comments:

glbeach said...

Why would the city charter NOT be right?

It seems to me Richardson is a very well-run city and has done a very solid job of weathering some tough economic situations not of it's own making - like the dotcom bust, the implosion of Nortel due to trusting Bernie Ebbers and MCI, and finally the financial crisis of 2008 - in a reasonable fashion.

I feel compelled to ask, is this discussion simply due to a vocal group that has not succeeded in getting elected or 'taking over' city hall, now trying to change the charter so they can get elected? And if that is the case, is it necessarily a good thing? Just because some structures have been in place a long time doesn't mean they are not good structures.

Mark Steger said...

Good question. Although there are vocal critics seeking charter changes, many of the council candidates in the last election, including winning candidates, expressed some level of support for a charter review commission. I believe the League of Women Voters itself recommends periodic review to see if the charter is still suitable for a changing city. Hence, the League's decision to hold this information session to inform the public. But I do not believe the League is itself advocating for any particular changes.

mccalpin said...

In 1989 during the last Charter review process, the Charter Review Committee was also confronted by these questions: should we have single member districts? should we directly elect the mayor? should we do this or that?

The discussions were threatening some gridlock until one of the members asked the question: "Are we a Charter Review Committee or a Charter Revision Committee?" Upon realizing that there wasn't a lot of push for an overhaul of the system, they decided that they were a "Charter Review Committee".

What did that mean? That they saw their purpose was to review the Charter in light of changes in State and Federal law and also changes caused by court cases.

As it happens, in the 30+ years since the original Charter (1956) and 1989, Texas had added a great deal of code to the statutes concerning home rule cities. This meant that a great deal of the language that was originally in the charters of home rule cities could be deleted - remember that home rule cities are intended to largely determine their own framework and govern themselves so earlier Texas law was not very specific.

In the event, the 1989 Charter Review deleted approximately half of the original Charter because most of that 50% was no longer relevant.

Of course, nothing stands still, and a Charter review ever so often is a good idea, even if at the outset there's nothing you want to change...that's why it's a "review", not a "revision".

For example, our Charter says (in so many words) that all bonds sold by the City that are backed by property taxes must be approved by the voters. Yet, the City sells Certificates of Obligation all the time, backed by property taxes, but not voted on by the public. How is this not a violation? Because in 1971, the State overrode our Charter by making it permissible to sell COs no matter what our Charter said. And since we are a home rule city that claims to have all powers of a home rule city (Article 2) whether or not we mention that power in the Charter, we have every right to sell COs.

However, because the Committee in 1989 didn't go and put a footnote in the revised Charter in 1989 that this language about voter approval applies ONLY to General Obligation bonds, we had the extremely embarrassing moment last summer when a local attorney showed up at Council, accused then all of violating the Charter, and suggesting that they all resign. See http://www.rumorcheck.org/SellingBondsWithoutVoterApproval.html

While the attorney should have done his homework anyway, a small notation in the Charter could have saved a lot of embarrassment, and worse, there are still people around town who believe this false accusation.

So, a review is a good thing, whether or not it produces any changes. Note: we reviewed the Charter about every 5 years from 1961 to 1989, but it wasn't until 1989 that the Council put any proposed changes up to the voters - before that, the Council always judged that any revisions were so minor as to not be worth the cost of an election.

Bill

Nathan Morgan said...

That's a clever rendition of the circumstance, McCalpin. The reality is that, in spite of best intentions, city leaders have chosen to ignore provisions in local law delineated in the City Charter. Perhaps wilful ignorance, given the motivation behind the violations that have been discovered.

The central premise behind the State of Texas enacting Home Rule Charter legislation was to avoid the burden on the legislature of making lower-level decisions that rightly should be handled by local governing bodies. The prime rule in the Home Rule Charter legislation is that a Charter cannot violate the Texas Constitution or Texas Statutes. Unfortunately, lower level governing bodies have had ample opportunity to legislate their own set of laws, resolutions and ordinances that present conflicting circumstances with this central mandate.

We have seen the City of Richardson flip flop between pointing to State level legal mandates, then to the Charter as being the guiding legal document, as a matter of convenience to bolster a given position on an issue. Case in point is your assertion that State Law somehow authorized the City of Richardson to violate the City Charter through provisions for selling Certificates of Obligation.

The restrictions in the Richardson City Charter that provide protection against rouge public officials manipulating the public finances do not violate either the Texas Constitution or Statues. Because pointing to enabling language enacted on the State level suited the desire of Richardson City Management to issue debt in the form of Certificates of Obligation, both the City Manager and City Council decided to ignore the protections the citizens of Richardson had placed in their City Charter.

Although Texas Statutes generally enable municipalities to use this form of public finance, it does not permit the violation of a Home Rule Charter prohibiting it. In this case, although the Statutes say the activity is permissible, local control in the form of the Richardson City Charter is the authoritative restriction on such practice. This appears to be a clear and present violation of the City Charter as it exists today.

Given that the City Management has engaged in such practice for the past decade or more, this has situated the City of Richardson in an unstable financial position. Akin to the violation of the Open Meetings Act that brought about the last rush to change the Charter, it is likely that the failed protections in this Section of the City Charter will become history upon the next Charter change election.

Another present example of convenient ignorance is the issue of electing the Mayor. The Texas Constitution clearly states that the voters will directly elect the Mayor. Yet, the Richardson City Charter, and the practice of city leaders have been in violation of the Constitution in this specific mandate by the seven member City Council being the only voters electing the Mayor. Instead of publicly acknowledging the Charter and their actions in violation of the Texas Constitution, city leaders, in typical fashion, stand defiant of the law. In spite of the rich Richardson tradition of City Council choosing the peoples' Mayor, this Charter provision clearly violates the Texas Constitution, thus is unlawful by virtue of the mandate in the Home Rule enabling provisions that prohibit such violations.

As long as there are sufficient loyalists who support such violations and enable public officials to remain unaccountable in abiding by the law of the land, there will be those patriots who stand up and defend civil society and the laws and Constitution of the United States and the great State of Texas. As it should be.

Nathan