This Wednesday: Charter Review Committee Holding Public Hearing

August 5, 2013

The City of West U Charter Review Committee is holding a public hearing on Wednesday to hear comments for and against proposed amendments to the city’s charter.

The public hearing will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 7 at 11:30 a.m. at city hall, 3800 University Blvd.

The West U City Council recently approved their 2013-2015 goals, which includes “City Charter Amendments – Finalize amendments and prepare for November 2013 Charter Election, including a public information initiative.”

The council was set to have residents vote on proposed charter amendments during the May 11 city election, but they decided to postpone a vote after receiving opposition from residents.

Council heard a report from its Charter Review Committee last November, when the group proposed revisions to seven sections of the city’s charter.

Charter Review Committee members include, Chair Phyllis Cohen, Ann Whitlock, Dennis Butler, John Palmer, Russell Schulze, John Neighbors, Katherine Shoebotham, Philip Bryant and Marshall Clinkscales.

The following revisions will be up to voters to decide:

Limit on Successive Terms

Increase the number of successive terms permitted for mayor and council members from two to three.

“The Committee reviewed the issue of term limits in connection with the discussion of the length of terms. The consensus of the Committee was that while there did not seem to be a need to  lengthen the terms, there did seem to be value in allowing people to serve more terms. This would improve a Council Member’s ability to participate in outside organizations such as the Houston-Galveston Area Council of Governments since it takes time for a member to gain seniority in such organizations. In addition, allowing additional terms might enhance continuity between Councils as some members might choose to serve additional terms while others might not. The Committee also discussed how many additional terms should be allowed and felt that it would be appropriate to add one (1) additional term now and allow the next Charter Review Committee to evaluate that change and determine whether it is sufficient or not,” according to the report.

Power of Initiative and Power of Referendum

Increase the number of signatures required on initiative and referendum petitions from three percent to five percent of the qualified voters of the city.

“The Committee discussed the signature requirement and reviewed the number of signatures required by other cities in Harris County. In comparison to other cities, West U’s threshold seemed low. The Committee discussed increasing the signature requirement from three percent to five or 10 percent; however, concern was expressed that the requirement should not be so high as to effectively preclude the public from requesting an initiative or referendum. Given the number of qualified voters within the City (approximately 10,000) the Committee felt that approximately 500 or five percent would be a reasonable number of signatures to require on initiative and referendum petitions,” according to the report.

Results of Election

Limit the four-fifth vote requirement to a six-year period.

“Section 4.06 provides that an ordinance adopted at an initiative election may not be repealed for two (2) years and then, after the two-year period, only upon the vote of four-fifths of the Council. The Committee considered the continuation of the four-fifths requirement for perpetuity to be unreasonable. The Committee noted that circumstances can change over time and after six (6) years the Council composition will change. The Committee concluded that a six (6) year requirement would ensure sufficient respect for the initiative process, but would not create an administrative burden associated with tracking such ordinances forever,” according to the report.

City Manager and City Secretary

Require the city secretary to report to the city manager.

“Section 6.03 provides that the City Secretary is appointed by and serves at the discretion of the City Council. In the past, this has created problems in that the Council positions are not full-time positions, and therefore Council members are not present at City Hall on a full time basis to supervise the City Secretary. The Committee reviewed the Charters of other cities in Harris County and concluded that providing for the City Secretary to report to the City Manager, similar to the Department Heads of the City, would provide for a better organizational and management structure. This could be accomplished most sufficiently by listing the City Secretary along with the City’s department heads in Section 6.02 of the Charter,” according to the report.

Interim Government

Change reference of “Commissioners” to “Council Members.”

“Section 10.11 refers to the Mayor and Commissioners continuing in office until the first regular election under the Charter. The reference to Commissioners is to the form of government of the City prior to adoption of the Home Rule Charter a more current reference would be to Council Member,” according to the report.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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