Charter recommendations presented

Reviewing and recommending possible changes to a city’s charter isn’t the most exciting thing that can be done in city government, but a committee of 11 chaired by Adam Russell attacked the task with vigor.

The committee was called for at the Dec. 11, 2017, City Council meeting and approved.

The Charter Review Advisory Committee’s mission was to go through the current city charter and make recommendations for changes.

At the Sept. 17, City Council meeting, Russell, speaking for the committee, presented its recommendations.

Before Russell’s presentation, Mayor Ken Shetter had words of encouragement for the committee and their efforts.  

“Adam, as you step forward I want to say thank you to you and all of the members of the committee because this is not the sexiest work you can do in city government to pore through the charter,” Shetter said. “It’s kind of a slog and so I appreciate the diligence with which you all took on the task. I also want to say a word of thanks to the Council and staff as well. There are lots of difficult issues you take up with the charter and I think the goal was to try to remove politics from the process as much as possible.”

Shetter added that the staff and City Manager Dale Cheatham gave the Council every opportunity to have input on how the process was going to look and what got communicated to the committee and who were extremely fairminded with what that process would look like.

“I want to give my accolades to the Council,” Shetter said. “Everybody participated in that process and was very conscientious. Everybody got on the same page as to how we would move forward and then everybody stepped back from what I can see and then let the process move forward. I just want to thank everyone for how the process was handled. Because it was handled as it should be.”

Russell noted in his opening remarks that the purpose for the committee was to recommend to the Council changes to the charter. Although ultimately the decision to have the charter election will be made by the Council.

The committee consisted of four city of Burleson board and commission members (Russell, Beth Lytner, Kason Mobley and Jennifer Stockemer), four at-large members (Kate Fields, Chris Dyer, Chris Schott and Lorraine Tune), a Burleson ISD representative (Chris Chappotin), a Joshua ISD representative (Myra Pruitt) and a representative as recommended by the city manager and city secretary (Cindy Aaron).

“I like the mix of the committee members – it’s a good mix of citizens,” Russell said. “It’s good to have JISD input since they have facilities that are inside the city limits. We had good input from everyone. Nothing crazy. The decision we made was unanimous.”

The City Council did highlight three areas of the charter they would like to be reviewed.

Those were should there be term limits, should there be single-member districts instead of at-large representation and should Section 132 regarding personal interest be extended to apply to City Council members?

Russell said that Cheatam and his staff provided the committee with pros and cons for an area to be reviewed.

The committee also used existing state law as a guideline, along with comparisons of what was being done by 13 other local cities. The cities examined included Bedford, Cleburne, Ennis,

Euless, Frisco, Garland, Grand Prairie, Grapevine, Hurst, Mansfield, Mesquite, Midlothian, and Waxahachie.

“There were a lot of vague things and things that weren’t defined in the charter and what we tried to do was take out the vague and basically we tried to mirror state law where we could,” Russell said. “We tried to track what states are doing and we also got a comparison of 13 other cities and what they are doing.”

One recommendation was made to change the eligible age of a Council member from 18 year-olds to 21.

Russell said the committee decided to make no recommendations or changes to term limits or changing single-member districts instead of the current at-large representations. One of the reasons for no changes was voter turnout.

“What we looked at was the turnout in recent elections,” Russell said. “We went back all the way to the 2012-13 election that was also the last charter review. What we saw was that not many people are going out and exercising that right to vote. If the council thinks that is something that needs to be there then yes we can put that on the ballot. We just felt it wasn’t the right time. Ultimately we decided to kick that can.”

The wording on the personal interest portion of the charter (Section 132) was reworked.

“We wanted to clean this up,” Russell said. “We wanted to look at who the decision makers were in the city. We also looked at appointed positions that are salaried. We wanted to define the substantial interest. We also wanted to allow people who work for the city to be able to bid a contract, but not people who are decision makers.”

The committee also recommended the creation of a standing review committee.

Following Russell’s presentation, Shetter had more words of praise for the committee.

“I just appreciate the work that you all did,” Shetter said. “It is one of the more thankless tasks that we ask of citizens. We put some hot potatoes on your plate for sure this year. I appreciate the diligence and seriousness with which you all approached your task.”

Other items that could be changed in the charter were also presented to the Council. The next step is for the Council to decide which if any items will go before the citizens for an election to amend the charter. The Council will make a decision within the next month.

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