Council to weigh proposed amendments to city charter
City council members will discuss at a workshop on Monday, Feb. 26, which proposed city charter amendments should go on ballots for voters to decide - and whether they want to add to the list given to them by a charter review commission.
The city charter is the city's basic rule of law, as permitted by state law. Cities with charters - so-called "home rule" cities in Texas - govern themselves as long as they don't violate Texas laws.
(The other form of city government in Texas, "general law" cities, has no ordinances of its own, but operates under the "general law" provisions of the Texas constitution. In practice, only the smallest of towns are general law cities.)
The commission handed the council at its Feb. 15 meeting a laundry list of 28 items commission members thought should be changed. Of the 28, most are so-called "housekeeping items" - for instance, one change in how different council places are elected no longer ties the council members' terms to the years 2003-2004. Another proposal notes that the word "palaces" should be "places."
Not much room for debate there.
Other changes would bring the charter into line with state law. An example: the dates the city charter uses to set elections aren't the same dates allowed by Texas law.
Further proposals would better align the way the city is run on a day-to-day basis with the theory of the city council-city manager form of government. Under the councilmanager format, the council sets city policy and the manager is the city's executive officer.
One amendment that may draw debate would change the way initiative and referendum petitions are handled. Initiative and referendum petitions are those drawn up by citizens and presented as demands to the council. In some cases they may ask for the recall of a city official; in other cases they may seek a change in city ordinances.
The amendment would raise the number of signatures on a petition from the current 20 percent of the number of Port Aransas voters in the most recent general election to 30 percent of that number. However, it would also give petitioners 60 days after they file an affidavit of petition to get those signatures. The charter now only gives them 30 days.
The late Councilman Jerry Watson campaigned for his seat based in part on an unsuccessful drive to force the city to restrict how money was spent for the then-proposed Charlie's Pasture Nature Preserve. Though nobody questioned that Watson gathered enough signatures on the petition, the document was incorrectly filed and was not accepted.
A change would allow the city manager to appoint and supervise the city engineer, a function now held by the city council. However, the recommendation would not take effect until after the current city engineer, Jim Urban, is no longer employed by the city.
Another proposed change that may see debate asks voters to let the council pass city ordinances with two public readings and votes at council meetings instead of the current three readings.
Proponents say because the council only meets once a month, the move would streamline council meetings. They point out that to get an ordinance passed now takes as much as a quarter of a year.
Opponents argue that even in a city as small as Port Aransas, generating opposition to an ordinance can take as much as three months. They want the longer period of time maintained.
When council members were handed the list on Feb. 15, they took no action except to set the workshop date.
By charter, the council isn't required to accept any of the commission's recommendations. Council members may also add their own list of proposed charter amendments to the ballot if they wish.
The city charter election is scheduled for the same day as the regular city council election - Saturday, May 12.