Thursday, September 24, 2015

Voters Guide: City Charter Amendments 41-50

Fifth in a series:

There are 83 propositions for amending the Richardson City Charter on the November ballot. I'm here with a voter's guide to tell you how to vote. You're welcome.

  • Proposition No. 41: Shall Section 11.08 of the Charter be amended to clarify the existing charter provision that city council may include in the city budget a reasonable sum set aside as an unallocated fund balance to meet unexpected and unforeseen contingencies in the operating costs of each budget fund of the city.

    YES. Clarification. Or is it? This amendment changes "unreserved" fund balance to "unallocated" fund balance. Assuming that these mean the same thing, then this amendment is a cleanup of potentially confusing terminology. (Compare with Proposition 12, which amends Section 11.08, changing "reserved" to "unallocated." How can "unreserved" and "reserved" both mean "unallocated"? Flammable/inflammable? Confusing, right?)

  • Proposition No. 42: Shall Section 11.09 of the Charter be amended to clarify and simplify the existing charter provision relating to the amendment of the budget by the city council for expenditures to meet unusual and unforeseen conditions.

    NO. Minor change. Currently, "emergency expenditures" can be added to the budget "in case of grave public necessity." With this amendment, all that's necessary is for there to be "unusual and unforeseen conditions." If you are concerned that this loosey-goosey language opens the door to the habitual tacking on of additional expenditures during the fiscal year, you should vote "NO." For me, I don't think the old language would have stopped a budget modification that the council really wanted to make. So the new language doesn't open any door that wasn't already open. Unexplained is why the amendment changes when the council needs to pass an ordinance ratifying the emergency budget change. With this amendment, the change can wait until the end of the fiscal year to be ratified by ordinance and the change no longer will have to be attached to the original budget. Lack of justification for these changes forces me to recommend a "NO" vote.

  • Proposition No. 43: Shall Sections 14.01, 14.02, 14.03, 14.04, 14.05, 14.06 and 14.08 of the Charter relating to the procedure for a citizen to request an election be called by the city council for the voters to consider the adoption of an ordinance be amended to clarify and simplify the procedure without making any substantive changes to the existing charter language.

    YES. Minor change. Lots of them, mostly just to simplify and clarify. But not all. Normally ordinances go into effect 30 days after passage. The current charter provides an exception for "an ordinance for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety." That exception is eliminated with this amendment. If that worries you, you might want to consider a "NO" vote. It would have been better had the charter review commission explained why this exception was deleted. I assume that state law gives cities emergency powers that don't need ordinances, but I don't know. In any case, this question is not a deal-breaker for me.

  • Proposition No. 44: Shall Section 14.09 of the Charter be amended to clarify and simplify the procedure for the qualified voters to submit a referendum petition for an election to consider the approval or disapproval of an ordinance adopted by the city council.

    NO YES. Substantive change. Despite the wording in the proposition that this amendment is to "clarify and simplify" the existing language, in fact the power of referendum might be getting restricted here. Like, a lot restricted. The current charter puts no limits on what ordinances are subject to referendum. With this amendment, "The power of referendum shall not apply to ordinances levying taxes, appropriating money, authorizing the issuance of bonds, zoning and any ordinance not the proper subject of referendum by the state constitution or state law." Wow. That's quite a restriction. Maybe state law already prohibits the power of referendum from applying to such ordinances, but I don't know that. And neither the proposition nor the charter review commission cited the relevant state law to justify adding this restriction to the charter. Until this amendment receives more discussion and justification, I recommend a "NO" vote. [Update: After receiving more information, I change my recommendation to "YES".]

  • Proposition No. 45: Shall Section 16.05 of the Charter relating to the power and authority of the city as a home rule city be repealed since such provision is redundant with other existing charter provisions.

    YES. Cleanup. Section 16.05 is redundant with Section 2.01.

  • Proposition No. 46: Shall Section 20.02 of the Charter be amended to simplify and clarify the existing charter provision requirement that an injured party provide written notice of claim to the city in accordance with state law.

    YES. Cleanup. Probably. There is a clause added that nothing in the charter shall be construed to mean that the city waives any immunity conferred by law. I think this is a CYA clause, not really needed but added just in case.

  • Proposition No. 47: Shall Section 20.05 of the Charter relating to the notice of claims by contractors for public work projects be repealed.

    YES. Cleanup. Probably. The "notice of claim" part of this section is redundant with Section 20.02 and can be eliminated. Also deleted is a clause requiring that "the city shall retain an amount from any funds due the contractors sufficient to satisfy all claims." I would like to learn more about the impact of deleting this clause, which could change my recommendation.

  • Proposition No. 48: Shall Section 3.09 of the Charter relating to the procedure to call a special meeting of the city council be amended.

    YES. Minor change. The current charter says that the only subject allowed to be discussed in a special meeting is the subject stated in the notice of a special meeting. This amendment deletes that restriction. Maybe because it's redundant with the Texas Open Meetings Act, which requires a posted agenda and prohibits deliberation on items not on the agenda.

  • Proposition No. 49: Shall Section 3.14 of the Charter be amended to change the reference of "city judge" to "municipal judge" to be consistent with state law.

    YES. Cleanup.

  • Proposition No. 50: Shall Section 4.04 of the Charter be amended relating to the qualifications of a person to serve as mayor or council member.

    YES. Minor change. Eliminated has been the requirement that elected candidates for city council "not be in arrears in the payment of any taxes or other liabilities due the city." Hmmm. Does state law forbid this restriction? Proposal doesn't say. In any case, let the voters decide.

Recommendations for the rest of the amendments will be coming in due time.

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