Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is the Mayor a Council Member?

Simple question, right? Nevertheless, a lot of money has been spent on court cases over sillier questions than this. If Richardson voters aren't careful, a lot of money could be spent having to get a legal answer to this one.

Currently, the Richardson City Charter says the city council is "composed of seven (7) members," one of whom also serves as mayor. Pretty clear, right? The mayor is a council member.

After November 6, if the proposed charter amendment passes (as it's likely to do), the charter will say the city council is "composed of six (6) members and a Mayor." The Mayor is clearly on the council. Using the common, everyday meaning of the English word "member", I'd agree that makes the Mayor a member of the council.

So, let's assume for the moment that the answer to our question is yes, the Mayor is a council member. What implications does that have elsewhere in the amended charter? After the jump, a look at Section 3.07.

Section 3.07 is titled "Vacancies" in the (soon to be) old charter. There's no doubt to whom that applies: all seven (7) members, including the member who is serving as Mayor.

The amended Section 3.07 is titled "Councilmember Vacancies." Because we've just assumed that the Mayor is also a council member, then it appears that Section 3.07 still applies to the Mayor. If so, why was the word "Councilmember" added to the title of this section? Isn't it reasonable to assume that whoever drafted the charter amendment was drawing a distinction between council member and the Mayor for the purposes of at least this section of the charter? If so, then we have at least one conflict in the uses of the word "member."

We're being asked to treat the Mayor as a council member in some cases, but not in all cases. Apparently, we can't just apply the common, everyday meaning of the word "member" throughout as we read the amended charter. We have to pick and choose a meaning depending on ... what? We do not have minutes of meetings when these details were thrashed out, no public hearings to review, we don't even know who to ask, as the author of the charter amendment has never revealed himself (herself, themselves, whatever).

Whoever drafted the charter amendment presented the voters with a careless mistake. The ambiguity opens up avenues of litigation for disgruntled citizens who have, for example, zoning ordinances go against their interest. We can Hope nothing like that happens before 2015, the earliest we can make the necessary Change to clean up the mess. "Hope and Change." That's what goes with a YES vote. Somehow, I don't think that was the message the backers of this amendment had in mind.


dc-tm said...

One of the best things about the charter election is that now, hopefully, the city council WILL do a charter review. As you have pointed out, all of the current council members campaigned on the notion that they were in favor of a charter review.

It also brings to light that the city council had no problems with the language in the proposed charter change. The city attorney reviewed the proposed changes and didn't bring up any concerns at the two council meetings where this was discussed. The city council didn't seem bothered by the language either as none had made mention of any concerns at either of the city council meetings where this amendment was discussed.

That makes me wonder why none of this was brought up by either the city attorney or the city council during discussions in those two meetings.

It is very amusing that you and McCalpin seem to make such a big deal out of the language in the proposed charter amendment, but when it comes to reading the Texas Constitution seem to read it in any matter other than literally.

Go figure.

But in any case, I do share your view that this charter change proposition will probably pass in a landslide.

You can bet none of this would have happened if the city council would have simply done its job and kept true to their words of doing a charter review.

Dave Chenoweth

Mark Steger said...

Voting YES in order to encourage a charter review is counter-productive. The city charter prohibits amending the city charter more frequently than every two years.

Council members have been silent on this charter amendment, possibly because they were burned by a lawsuit when some of them voiced their opinions about the 2007 charter amendment election. In any case, reading their silence as support is unfounded.

The city attorney examined the petition to determine that it is a proper subject and in proper form. It was. He did not offer advice to the city council on what potential problems might ensue if the voters approved the amendment. That was irrelevant to the question at hand: whether the petition required the council to call an election. It did.

The question of the constitutionality of Richardson's charter was thoroughly thrashed out on the blog last June. The argument is off-topic here.

dc-tm said...

Just to set the record a little bit straighter, the "... because they were burned by a lawsuit ..." you refer to was not the council commenting or having a discussion on the charter change back then. It was about them actively promoting the passage of the proposition by adding their signatures to campaign material mail out from the Richardson Chamber of Commerce and the illegalities of the election itself. Six of the seven council members signed that card. Pris Hayes was the only council member at the time that did not take part in the endorsement of the proposition.

You have to admit that those actions back in 2007 are a far cry from just merely having discussions about the content of a proposition at a council meeting, apples and oranges kind of different.

Dave Chenoweth

Mark Steger said...

Bill McCalpin tests the hypothesis that maybe "council member" and "councilmember" mean two different things. Spoiler alert: read this way, the charter is even more of a mess. This amendment is a prime example why writing city charters is not something you should try at home.

dc-tm said...

Seems he has found some of the Authors involved.