Thursday, June 4, 2015

Charter Amendments: Three to Like

Previously, I took a first look at the Charter Review Commission's recommended changes to the Richardson City Charter. I found three changes that I'll oppose. But just to show you that I'm not reflexively negative, today I highlight three changes that I like.

The following quotes are from a memo to the Mayor and City Council from the Charter Review Commission.
Article 3.04 -- Compensation -- Recommended increasing the compensation for the city council from $50 to $100 per meeting.
This is minor, as changes go. A $100 remuneration for time devoted to running a multi-million dollar business is hardly excessive. Still, I can imagine voters rejecting this change. Voters can be tightfisted when it comes to compensating officeholders for their time and effort. I can even imagine the council deciding to reject this change without putting it before the voters, just to avoid any possible backlash from the voters. It sucks, but that's politics. If the council does pass it on to the voters, I'll be voting "yes."

Article 3.07 -- Council Vacancies -- Modified the language so that if there is one vacancy on the city council, other than mayor, it shall be filled by appointment to serve the remainder of the unexpired term. If there are two or more vacancies, the vacancies shall be filled by special election to be held on the earliest date allowed by law unless the date of the next general election for city council occurs first.
This corrects an unintended consequence of the last charter revision, in 2012. (I say unintended, but who knows? The author of those revisions never identified himself to allow us to ask him what he intended.) With this new change, if the mayor resigns, a special election will be held to replace him or her. I've been ambivalent about the theory that direct election of the mayor is a superior method to having the council choose their own team leader, but once we made the change to directly elect the mayor, we ought to go the whole nine yards. Directly elect the mayor and if the office becomes vacant, directly elect his or her successor. The inconsistency of the current charter resulted in a lot of unnecessary grief this year.

One could argue that the same logic applies to a vacancy among the council members, too. Council member Steve Mitchell asked the commission about that. I hope he pursues that and convinces the council to change the commission's recommendation in that case. But as for the mayor, I'll be supporting the council's recommendation to have a special election to fill any vacancy in the mayor's position.

Article 19.05 -- Charter Review -- Added a section to state that the city council shall appoint a commission at least every ten (10) years to review the charter. The commission shall be made up of qualified voters from all districts of the city.
Hallelujah! It's been over a quarter century since a commission studied the city charter. Since then, we've had expensive lawsuits prompted by details where the charter hadn't kept up with changes in state law. It's at least arguable that the recent controversy over Mayor Laura Maczka's decision not to serve another term might have been avoided if the city council hadn't reneged on campaign promises to appoint a charter review commission in 2012. With this charter amendment, never again will we go another quarter century without at least considering ways to strengthen our democracy. That's an undeniable Good Thing™ that deserves a wholehearted "yes" vote.

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