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West U. Charter Review Committee presents recommendations to council

December 17, 2018

The Charter Review Committee presented their recommendations at the Monday, Dec. 10, West University Place city council meeting.

The Charter Review Committee’s report included five proposed amendments and three observations about the review process itself.

“Our purpose from our perspective was to look at the city charter to make sure that city government’s operations comply with the charter, and also to make sure that it’s effective,” Katherine Brem, Charter Review Committee chair said.

The first proposed amendment was to increase the limit on successive terms, from two terms to three. Currently the mayor and council members have two year terms and a limit of two consecutive terms.

“We think it is good to have turnover… but we want to give you all the freedom to serve slightly longer… . This enables you to get more experience,” Brem said.

It was noted that the three-term proposal would not include those currently sitting on council. The new rule would take place for newly appointed council members.

The second amendment dealt with vacancies. The charter currently reads that council must fill vacancies within 60 days, or there is a special election. However, Brem noted, the rules for special elections have since changed, and they can only be held in May and November.

The committee recommended the option of two changes for the council to choose from. The first option was to remove the special election language and have it read just “council shall fill vacancies within 60 days.” The second option is “if council does not fill the vacancy within 60 days then the mayor shall fill the vacancy.”

The third amendment dealt with future possible mayor pro tem vacancies.

“We on the committee believed it was important that we have someone who is designated to step into the shoes of the mayor. We request that you change the charter to read the election of the mayor pro tem shall be at the council’s first meeting or in the event of the vacancy within 60 days,” Brem explained.

Brem continued, “What if there is a situation where there needs to be emergency services and the mayor is out of touch and there is no one else designated to serve in that capacity? There could be many instances when we thought you needed someone at the top.”

The fourth amendment, which Brem noted was the most “controversial,” was about debt load.

“We are concerned that the debt load that the city can take on is rather high,” Brem said.

The committee recommended that the total indebtedness of the city shall not exceed five percent of the net taxable valued property in the city. This year, the total taxable property value would be $6.047 billion, which means the city could take up to $300 million in debt.

The committee proposed to lower the exceeding amount from five percent to three percent. Four members agreed with the idea, however, three members voted against.

The last amendment dealt with the Charter Review Committee itself. The charter reads that there should be seven members, but it does not currently mention alternates. The committee recommended that the number of members be brought up to nine, so there is not a need for alternates.

“Seven is a good number, but we can’t always be at every meeting,” Brem said. If all nine people are able to be there, its still a good uneven number to vote.”

The charter review committee also offered three suggestions from observations about the Charter Review Committee. The first suggestion was to recommend that the committee meet within 60 days of being appointed, with Brem noting that it was difficult to get the members together for their first meeting.

The second suggestion was to have a guidance for future councils to follow in reference to past committees.

“For this committee, we have elected the chair and the vice-chair, but in previous times they were appointed by council. We don’t have an opinion on what the process should be, but we think it would be nice to have guidance,” Brem said.

The third and final suggestion was to include a provision in the charter for a secretary. Brem noted that West University Place’s secretary, Thelma Gilliam, graciously helped the review committee, even thought she did not have to help.

The council members will vote on each recommended amendment individually on the May ballot.

rebecca.hazen@chron.com

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