The West University Place municipal election is on May 4. The only disputed issues are how to vote on four proposed amendments to the West University Place City Charter, the equivalent of our municipal constitution. The mayor and city council races are uncontested. However, the council candidate with the most votes is traditionally selected as the mayor pro-tem.
For background, every six years the city charter requires the city council to appoint a citizen committee to consider revisions to the West University Place City Charter. Ergo the West University Charter Review Commission.
The group met five times and, after much deliberation, agreed on five proposed amendments. One was culled by the city council, and the remaining four were approved by the city council to be included on the May 4 ballot.
The proposed charter amendment process is designed to promote consensus viewpoints and the results are almost always ballot proposals that garner broad support on election day.
After each ballot item, I am going to try to make the case for and against each. (Full disclosure: I intend to vote for them all).
AUTHORIZE AN AMENDMENT TO ARTICLE II, SECTION 2.03 OF THE CHARTER RELATING TO THE LIMIT ON SUCCESSIVE TERMS FOR MAYOR AND COUNCIL, TO INCREASE THE NUMBER OF SUCCESSIVE TERMS FROM TWO (2) TO THREE (3).
Each prospective West University Place Councilmember tosses their respective hat in the center every two years and the top four vote-getters are elected to a two-year term. Currently, the elected councilmembers are limited by the city charter to two consecutive terms. This proposed charter amendment would allow for three consecutive terms rather than two.
There are only two statutory required actions each year by the city council. One is to adopt an annual budget. The other is to set a tax rate to fund the adopted annual budget.
None of the incoming city councilmembers have ever served on the city council, so none have ever considered, deliberated or adopted a municipal budget or set a tax rate. The Charter Review Commission believes that a continuum of experience would be beneficial and that a longer permitted term of service for citizen councilmembers would result is a more experienced decision-making elected body.
Also, some residents believe that councilmembers should be valued for their experience and that if we too frequently replace effective councilmembers with a newcomer, we will lose the valuable experience an on-the-job that resident can offer.
With the existing restrictions, councilmembers will be more responsible toward their constituents because they will soon (again) be constituents themselves. They will have to live under the laws they have created while in office.
Also, the current restrictions have been in place for more than 50 years. Why change? West University Place has prospered under the current regulations.
AUTHORIZE AN AMENDMENT TO ARTICLE II, SECTION 2.05 OF THE CHARTER RELATING TO VACANCIES ON CITY COUNCIL, TO REQUIRE CITY COUNCIL TO FILL A VACANCY ON CITY COUNCIL BY APPOINTMENT WITHIN SIXTY (60) DAYS AND REMOVE A SPECIAL ELECTION FOR THE MATTER IN ACCORDANCE WITH STATE LAW.
Because a prolonged vacancy of both the council and mayor pro-tem’s position was fresh in their minds from 2018, the review committee tackled the matter of how to fill vacancies. Since special elections are now restricted only to May and November, the proposed amendment would require the appointment of a replacement councilmember within 60 days. The current charter permits an appointment to fill a vacancy, but it does not require it. The proposed amendment would require an appointment.
The mayor and councilmembers are limited in their efficiency when a vacant seat makes a majority vote less likely and its result can stifle the orderly flow of government. An odd number of decision-makers is more efficient on tightly debated issues where an even number possibly stifling. The concern is that a vacancy could result in a policy-making stand-off until a new election.
The existing charter already gives a majority (mayor and city council) the ability to appoint a peer. For some that is already troublesome because they believe only elected representatives should be empowered to tax and spend and appointed people should not have that power. The process already invites possible political horse-trading. The requirement for an appointment only makes the horse-trading more likely.
AUTHORIZE AN AMENDMENT TO ARTICLE II, SECTION 2.07 OF THE CHARTER RELATING TO THE MAYOR PRO TEM, TO REQUIRE CITY COUNCIL TO ELECT A MAYOR PRO TEM WITHIN SIXTY (60) DAYS IN THE EVENT OF A VACANCY.
The mayor pro-tem assumes mayoral duties when the mayor is absent or unavailable. By tradition, the successful city council candidate with the most votes is elected by their peers as the mayor pro-tem. As a practical matter, the only way a vacancy could occur is if the mayor pro-tem resigned or died.
The mayor can’t be everywhere. So having a mayor pro-tem is a way to make sure the city is always represented at civic events and public meetings. The title is honorific and is not attached to any additional authority beyond that of a councilmember.
A bad choice could result in embarrassment to the city.
AUTHORIZE AN AMENDMENT TO ARTICLE X, SECTION 10.13 OF THE CHARTER RELATING TO CHARTER REVIEW, TO INCREASE THE CHARTER REVIEW COMMITTER FROM SEVEN (7) TO NINE (9) RESIDENTS OF THE CITY.
The current West University Charter Review Commission met many times to discuss a variety of charter amendment possibilities. The sheer number of meetings resulted in a floating attendance that was rarely complete. The reasoning behind this proposal is that its adoption would result in enough attendees to provide for a robust discussion at each meeting.
West University Place is one of the premier residential magnets in the United States. Why change anything? Let’s not mess it up. And who knows what will?
West University Charter Review Commission membership
The citizens who served on the West University Charter Review Commission were: Catherine Brem (Chair) , Dick Yehle (Vice-Chair), Candido Alvarado, David Furlow, Betsy Kamin, Eddie Mathews, Spyros Myrango, Kenneth Mercado, Steven Segal.
The election is on May 4 at West University City Hall from 7am-7pm.