Wednesday, July 1, 2015

City Council's Take on Charter Amendments

The commission appointed by the Richardson City Council to review the city charter made numerous recommendations for charter amendments. By their own estimation, it may take fifty ballot propositions to address them all.

On June 22, the council deliberated what to do with those recommendations. Twice, I discussed those deliberations regarding one particular recommendation (filling a single vacancy on the council by appointment instead of a special election). Today, I want to talk about the council's take on all the other recommendations made by the commission.

I say "all" the other recommendations but as you'll see, I really mean just a handful.

The discussion about how to fill a council vacancy consumed more time than any other recommended charter change. The council ended up going along with the commission's recommendation to have a single vacancy be filled by appointment, not special election.

The recommendation that consumed the next greatest amount of time was the recommendation to raise council pay from $50 per meeting to $100. Steve Mitchell suggested that he was fine with the current compensation. Others agreed that they are not in it for the money, but no one moved to instruct city staff to strike this recommendation from the upcoming ballot. Again, in the end, the council went along with the commission's recommendation. Many of the other charter changes are more important than this one, but this is one the council decided to talk about. Priorities.

Mabel Simpson asked the city attorney, Pete Smith, how the change to Article 7.01 would affect the City Attorney's office. The change adds language that the city attorney may serve as municipal court prosecutor. Pete Smith said current practice is already compatible with the new wording. Simpson then asked Smith for the pros and cons of a city hiring a full time prosecutor. After Smith gave his opinion, no one on the council suggested any changes to this commission recommendation.

Bob Townsend asked for clarification on the language about place of residence for people appointed to boards and commissions. Group wordsmithing ensued.

Paul Voelker asked what the consequences would be if a future council failed to hold a charter review every ten years as a charter amendment requires. Pete Smith said a citizen could sue the city.

And...curtain. That was it. The city attorney estimated that the commission's recommendations may amount to as many as fifty propositions for the ballot. The council felt only a handful were worthy of discussion. The council exhausted all of their questions in a little over an hour. The only change the council agreed on was some very minor wordsmithing to one amendment. The city manager diplomatically described the council's instructions as "modest."

If I were on the council (I'm pausing here as I write while I wait for your laughter to subside), I would go through each change, one by one, asking the commission chair why the commission made that change. The process could have been streamlined if the commission had done that work ahead of time but they didn't. All we have is the red-lined charter without annotations justifying the changes. This council didn't need justifications. This is the same council that questions shrubbery placement in zoning cases, but when it comes to fifty or more changes to the city's governing document, they see no need to get into the details.

Again, if I were on the council (another long pause for snickering to die down), I would have made a motion to eliminate or amend some of the recommended changes, for example those dealing with open meetings, recall limitations, and a contract for the city manager. Not only didn't any of the council members feel the same as I do, they didn't even feel the need to discuss these matters. Not only didn't we get thorough deliberation on important changes, I can't even say we got the shrubbery.

And that's the city council's take on the most comprehensive changes to the city charter in over half a century.

No comments: