City Calls Special Election on Charter

Posted on Aug 22, 2013

Amarillo, TX – The City of Amarillo’s charter is 100 years old. The charter serves as the City’s constitution. When the charter was first adopted, the population of Amarillo was 9,957 (1910 census). Since that time, technology, federal and state laws, public policy and terminology have changed. Because of this, the Amarillo City Commission has called a special election November 5 for voters to consider certain amendments to the Charter.

On the ballot will be several propositions amending the City’s Charter, including:

  • General Terminology, Titles, Numbers, and Nonsubstantive Conforming Provisions – This proposition would amend the Charter by making various vocabulary changes to use modern and consistent terminology, titles and labels including changing the name of the governing body from “City Commission” to “City Council” and “Commissioner” to “Council Member.”
  • Dates for and Timing of Various Elections – The Charter specifies exact dates and time periods for various kinds of elections (regular, runoff, initiative, referendum, recall, bonds, etc.). However, the Texas Election Code now mandates such, so this proposition will remove all references to specific election dates and any specified number of days for calling, conducting, or canvassing an election. Plus, the Charter currently specifies the Regular Municipal Election shall be “on the first Saturday in April” in odd numbered years. However, the Texas Election Code no longer allows a city to conduct an election in April. This proposition will specify that the regular municipal election shall be on the date allowed by law that occurs on or nearest May 1.
  • Expenditures for or During Emergencies – Under current state law and City purchasing policies, the City Manager may authorize the expenditure of up to $50,000 on routine purchases. However, the 1913 Charter limits emergency (unbudgeted) expenditures to only $250. In today’s economy, $250 may not be enough to repair a vehicle or massive industrial pump in the City’s water system. This proposition will remove the $250 cap, allowing emergency expenditures in the same manner and amounts as is allowed for routine budgeted expenditures. 
  • Initiative and Referendum-Signatures Required – Traditionally, the powers of initiative and referendum have been viewed as being reserved for extraordinary circumstances in which there is significant public concern over an issue, not merely a vocal minority who disagrees with a governmental decision. This view is supported by the concepts of representative government and the public policy of avoiding the cost of unnecessary elections. This proposition will require that petitions be signed by not less than five percent of the registered voters residing within the City limits.
  • Initiatives and Referendums – Some of the propositions would update processes and procedures related to initiatives and referendums, including requiring that such petitions be promptly circulated for signature and returned completed within 120 days, or else be deemed withdrawn and void. Plus, validation of signatures is an important step that preserves integrity of the process and it deserves to be clearly stated in the Charter text. The time proposed for signature validation is 21 calendar days, which is performed in accordance with state law requirements. The current Charter also is silent as to how frequently a matter may be re-submitted to the voters. One of the propositions would specify that once a matter has been placed for a public vote, and the measure passes or fails, then that matter may not again be the subject of an initiative or referendum petition until three years after the election date on that matter.
  • Conflicting Charter Amendments and Petitions– Amarillo has not yet been confronted with the situation of competing Charter amendments offered on the same ballot. Because it has happened in other cities, this proposition would specify that the measure receiving the highest number of favorable votes prevails.  Likewise, Amarillo has not yet been confronted with the situation of competing initiatives or referendums offered on the same ballot. Another proposition will specify that the initiative or referendum receiving the highest number of favorable votes prevails. 
  • Open Meetings—Recognize State Law – The Charter already specifies the governing body shall conduct business in open meetings, with closed or executive sessions allowed. This proposition strengthens that requirement by adding a reference to the Texas Open Meetings Act, as amended.
  • Mayor & City Commission-Meetings – The Charter requires the City Commission to meet weekly, which can pose a challenge during a holiday week or emergency circumstances such as a winter storm. This proposition will allow cancellation of a weekly meeting for exigent circumstances, but still require at least two meetings per month.
  • Mayor & City Commission-Election Eligibility – A person who meets state law requirements and the residency requirement of the Charter may file for election to the office of Mayor or City Commissioner.  This proposition will require persons desiring to be a candidate to either pay a reasonable fee or submit a signed petition in lieu of the fee.  
  • Bonds – The Charter requires the City Manager and certain other officials to post an official bond in the sum of $5,000. This provision has not kept up with either the current titles of officials or the current economy. This proposition recognizes that the City may require bonds of the City Manager and other officials, all as specified by ordinance or statute.

For more information on the City’s Charter, visit amarillo.gov and click on 2013 Special Election tab.

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