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May election includes 17 proposed charter changes

By Melissa Crowe
April 25, 2012 at 7:03 p.m.
Updated April 24, 2012 at 11:25 p.m.


CAST YOUR VOTE

Early voting is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to May 8; 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., May 4 and May 8, at the Victoria County Elections Administrators Office, 111 N. Glass St. General Election voting opens May 12, check victoriatx.org for your voting precinct.

Victoria voters can have their say May 12 in 17 proposed amendments to the city charter.

Of the 17 changes, the propositions span small "housekeeping" items and word definitions to lowering age qualifications to run for office, which was added Feb. 21.

John Crews, an agent at Coldwell Banker, said he thought all the propositions "are good," but said he had reservations regarding Proposition No. 17, the age requirement.

"Keep the age at 21, those qualifications are there for a reason," he said.

The proposition would lower the age requirement to run for office from 21 to 18.

Nelda Chambers, a local real estate agent, said she was "in favor, overall," though she did not say she supported all propositions.

Like Crews, the amendment that caught her attention was Proposition 17.

"I'll really have to think about the age change," she said. "I see their point, but it's a big job."

However, Dennis Patillo, local restaurateur, said he had "no problem at all with any age requirement."

He said he knows some very qualified young men and women.

"It all depends on the individual who's running," he said.

City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz gave a condensed run-down of the amendments this week during a Victoria Partnership meeting at the city's 700 Main Place.

The process of proposing the amendments began in 2010, when Mayor Will Armstrong appointed councilman Tom Halepaska to head up a charter review committee.

Council members Paul Polasek and Denise Rangel, as well as former mayor Gary Middleton and former councilmen Phillip Guittard and Bill Russell joined the process.

A brief summary of other propositions is as follows:

No. 1 gives the city manager the responsibility of appointing a city secretary. The council currently has this responsibility.

Gwosdz said this proposition "streamlined" the hiring process.

If approved, the council would only be responsible for hiring the city manager, city attorney and municipal judge. Everyone else would be hired by the city manager.

No. 2 would allow the city to publish public notices online, as well as in print. The amendment would require notices to be published in a local, general circulation newspaper, so long as one exists.

No. 3 authorizes the assistant city manager, or another person designated by the council, to serve during the city manager's absence.

No. 4 changes the word public money to city money.

Gwosdz said this amendment addresses a "conflict of interest" issue. Because you cannot be paid out of money you control, as-is, the article prevents staff from University of Houston-Victoria or Victoria College from running for office because they are paid in "public funds."

"It has nothing to do with the characterization of finances," Gwosdz said.

No. 5 eliminates nine sections from article IV regarding the city's power to levy and collect taxes.

Gwosdz said the change is made to bring the charter in-line with state law.

The amendment would keep the city's limitation of tax levy, which allows it to decrease the official tax rate for the current year at any given time.

No. 6 updates the general obligation bonds item to eliminate a requirement that a person be a landowner to vote in general obligation bond elections.

No. 7 amends the item for general and run-off elections.

Gwosdz said there are two dates general elections can be held, one in May and one in November.

The change would provide that general and special elections be held on the uniform election dates. The change would not move the city's election day, Gwosdz said.

No. 8 lengthens the period for a petition for a referendum to be filed.

As is, a petition must be filed prior to 30 days of the effective date. With the change, it can be within 30 days of that date.

No. 9 clarifies petition requirements.

Gwosdz said this amendment "makes it easier" for qualified voters to submit petitions by changing the affidavit requirement.

In the amendment, each separate petition paper shall contain an affidavit stating that he or she circulated the petition personally. As is, the section requires one signer from each separate paper to sign an affidavit. The proposition would only require one affidavit per petition.

No. 10 replaces specific duties of the planning commission with a blanket clause that they would work on matters relating to planning.

No. 11 eliminates redundancies relating to paving roads.

Gwosdz said the changes were already in effect under state law.

No. 12 removes a residency requirement for the municipal court judge.

"It makes sense to me to have more flexibility," Gwosdz said. "What's more important is to be a qualified, practicing attorney."

The proposition removes a minimum period of residency requirement.

No. 13 allows the city manager to appoint a clerk for the municipal court. As is, the council appoints the clerk.

Gwosdz said the change "cleans up the management tree."

No. 14 prohibits the use of city equipment or money for election campaigning.

The change preserves the right of city officers and employees to campaign for and contribute to campaigns, but prohibits city elected officers from campaigning while in city-owned buildings or in city council meetings.

No. 15 defines "officer" throughout the charter to mean elective officers.

The change, regarding officer defined, removes appointed officers - law officers or department heads.

Gwosdz said it is for clarification. The charter would then reference employee when referring to employee.

No. 16 removes the phrase "appointive officers" when referring to employees throughout the charter.

Gwosdz said this was to clarify and add consistency in describing city employees.

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