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The potential for a charter amendment election is in the air. The 2017-2018 City Charter Review Committee evaluated the City Charter from November until June, and their recommendations were presented to the City Council on June 19. Mayor Pro Tem Keith D. Olson served as the Chair of the Committee and led the Council workshop on the proposals.
Olson urged the Council to carefully consider all the topics brought forward, as the Committee had, to thoroughly address needed updates to the Charter. He said the committee members decided that they would note all the items they felt needed attention, even if there was not complete agreement on exactly how every one of them should be amended.
“We had many good conversations over the last few months, where a variety of perspectives came to light,” Olson said. “The [Committee] members weren’t in lockstep on how we viewed certain sections, which made for great discussions. It helped us get to know the Charter better, and think about how it can best serve our residents. I hope the Council will consider putting all of these up for our citizens to study and vote on.”
The five-member group included Olson as well as Councilmembers Clyde D. Loll and Tyler McCaffety, former Mayor Jane Monday, and former Councilmember Dalene Zender. The meetings were posted and open to the public. The Committee worked with charter officers and City directors to understand how particular provisions were carried out on a day to day basis, and what was made more difficult or could be improved by changes in the Charter.
“The Charter was first adopted by the City’s voters in 1968. Every five years, at a minimum, it gets reviewed,” clarified Olson. “Unfortunately, we found a lot that had not changed, or had only rarely been updated, in the last fifty years. As a foundational document as important as the Charter is, residents want to know that it’s practical and practiced to ensure the future of our great city.”
The City Council will now spend the next few weeks analyzing the Charter and contemplating what items should make it onto the November 6, 2018, ballot. The Council can accept, reject, or amend the recommendations, and can add others. For a change to become part of the Charter, however, any amendments will have to be approved by the voters. The Council is expected to discuss proposed amendments at the July 17 and August 7 meetings, and potentially adopt an ordinance on August 7, calling the special Charter election and listing the ballot language for the final selections. State law mandates that a special election on a measure for the November 6, 2018, election must be called no later than August 20, 2018.
Per the Charter, a review must be done at least every five years. Per the Texas Constitution, a city charter cannot be amended more frequently than every two years.
The current charter and prior versions are available for viewing at www.HuntsvilleTX.gov/CouncilDocumentsCharter (for information & links) or at www.HuntsvilleTX.gov/Charter (for links only). Via both pages is access to the Charter Action Registry, a document compiled in 2014 that includes all the changes to Charter throughout its existence.
“Councilmember Loll had suggested such a document at one time, and it proved to be very helpful in our review process,” Olson recalled. “It enabled us to view changes over time and consider why things were written as they were.”
“City staff proved to be excellent resources for the process as well. City Secretary Lee Woodward and City Attorney Leonard Schneider were involved in the 2009 and 2013 charter elections, and City Manager Aron Kulhavy and former City Manager Matt Benoit clearly illustrated how certain charter provisions impacted City workflow and efficiencies. Finance Director Steve Ritter clarified financial procedures and state law requirements. We truly appreciated everyone’s assistance.”
For more information, contact the City Secretary's Office at 936-291-5403 or CitySecretary@HuntsvilleTX.gov.