Upcoming Election: Charter Amendments

On November 5, Kerrville voters will have an opportunity to vote on several proposed amendments to the city’s charter. This year’s election will also include statewide constitutional amendments, which will be on the ballot at the same time. But in this article, we’ll focus on the city charter, what it is, why it matters, and what these proposed changes will mean to you as a citizen of Kerrville.

What is the Charter?

The State of Texas sets out laws, rules, and guidelines for how an incorporated municipality (like Kerrville) is allowed operate, but it also leaves tremendous flexibility in some areas, and those topics are of utmost importance when it comes to a city’s charter. Kerrville’s current charter can be viewed here: https://library.municode.com/tx/kerrville/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTICH

The charter can be thought of as the city’s constitution — more or less. It sets out the rules and policies for how the city is governed, including matters such as:

  • Annexation & Condemnation
  • Qualifications and duties of Council members
  • Council rules and procedures
  • Elections, Recalls, and Referendums
  • Rules and duties of the city manager and city attorney
  • Financial matters
  • Taxation
  • Municipal Courts
  • Boards & Commissions
  • …and much more

The chairman of the Charter Review Committee (which we’ll discuss later), John Harrison, stated it this way: “The City Charter is a document that describes how ‘we the people’ want our city to be operated. We must comply with state law but where the state is not specific we have flexibility at the local level… Whether you want to run for City Council or just to know more about how the city operates, the Charter is one of the first documents a person should read.”

Here’s the first paragraph of our city’s charter, laying out the purpose and principals that guide the document itself:

“We the people of the City of Kerrville, Texas, under the constitution and laws of the State of Texas, in order to secure the benefits of local self-government and to provide for an honest and accountable council-manager government do hereby adopt this Charter and confer upon the City the following powers, subject to the following limitations, and prescribed by the following procedures and government structure. By this action, we secure the benefits of home-rule and affirm the values of representative democracy, professional management, strong leadership, citizen participation, and regional cooperation.”

Article 1, Section 1.01, City of Kerrville Charter

Charter Review Commission

Also set forth in the Charter is the mandate that the document be reviewed at least every five years by a “Charter Review Commission” consisting of seven residents of the City. This body shall, according to the Charter, determine whether any sections require revision, hold a public hearing, propose amendments, and report to City Council. (Ref.: Article XIV, Section 14.06-14.07, City of Kerrville Charter.)

The last time the charter was reviewed was back in 2013, when Council approved eight amendments for the ballot, and all eight were approved by voters.

The mandated review five years later was begun in November 2018 when the Kerrville City Council established the Charter Review Commission (CRC) consisting of seven local residents. The committee included a former council member and mayor, a retired City Secretary, a local attorney, a high school government teacher, and three other citizens that had been intimately involved in local governmental affairs. The commission members included:

  • Brenda Craig
  • Greg Richards
  • Stephen Fine
  • Michael Sigerman
  • John Harrison
  • Karen Yanez
  • Peggy McKay

This commission met at least eight times between February and April, including a public hearing on June 3. All of the meetings were open to the public and were posted in accordance with the Open Meetings Act regulations.

A written report was created by the CRC and presented to Council. That 27-page report, which includes detailed explanations for each change, can be found here: https://www.kerrvilletx.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/3626

The commission made a recommendation to council that 43 amendments be considered. By law, council must approve or decline to forward these proposals to the citizens for a vote. Council approved most of those recommendations in August, and voted to put forth numerous proposed amendments for a citywide election on November 5. (The date was selected to coincide with the statewide constitutional amendment election that is held every two years in odd-numbered years.)

What are the proposed amendments?

“We proposed changes that makes the Charter more readable and easier to understand. Over a six month period, we read, discussed, debated and finally voted on every proposed change. I believe these changes are good for the City and would encourage every citizen to learn about the proposals and support them in November.”

John Harrison, chairman of the CRC

Many of the proposed amendments are clarifying in nature, meaning they don’t make sweeping changes, but rather, they make the intent and language easier to read and comprehend. Some of the more significant proposed amendments include:

  • Add a clause to prevent nepotism
  • Term Limits — restrict council members to no more than three consecutive two-year terms
  • Raise the Stakes for Place 1 and 2 running for mayor — If a councilmember in Place 1 or 2 wants to run for mayor, he/she shall resign from their position regardless of the outcome of the mayor race
  • Require all municipal judges to be licensed attorneys
  • Authorize mayor to create and make appointments to ad hoc committees
  • Allow the city to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages in residential areas

The proposed amendments are discussed in greater detail in the written report that the CRC presented to Council. However, please note that Council did not authorize each of these amendments, so some of the items in this report will NOT be on the ballot. Regardless, the report provides valuable information about the rationale for each proposed change, and therefore is a useful guide to the voters. See the references section below for more reading material on these amendments.

How will you be affected?

Since many of the amendments are minor, those changes are unlikely to affect your day-to-day life in Kerrville. But many of the other amendments do have ramifications for the way our local government works, and the way the city operates, in general. For instance, we currently don’t have term limits for the mayor or council, and historically, some council members have served for long periods of time. Term limits would, theoretically, increase participation from a larger pool of prospective candidates, providing more diversity in opinion, and less stagnation of thought. This particular amendment could have a lasting impact on our community.

Other changes may seem to be unimportant, but could also have big changes on your local government. We think it’s a good idea for every voter to be come familiar with these proposals and how it could affect the community as a whole.

References

CRC Report: https://www.kerrvilletx.gov/ArchiveCenter/ViewFile/Item/3626
Sample Ballot: https://www.kerrvilletx.gov/DocumentCenter/View/34568/Sample-BALLOT-for-Special-Election—Charter-Amendments-11-05-19
Newspaper Notice: https://www.kerrvilletx.gov/DocumentCenter/View/34571/Newspaper-Notice-of-Amendments

Editorial Section

This portion of the article contains the opinions of Kerrville United and this article’s author, Aaron Yates.

Kerrville United supports each of the proposed amendments slated for the November 5 election. We encourage all voters to approve these amendments by voting “FOR” on the ballot. We salute the CRC for doing tedious, but valuable work on this year’s Charter Review.

Voting Information

This year’s Special Election will be held on November 5, 2019, with early voting from October 21 through November 1. All early voting will take place at the Cailloux Theater, but voting locations will be located in different places on Election Day, based on precinct. See the City of Kerrville’s Election Page for more information, and see the graphic below for voting places and times.

You must already be registered to vote to be eligible to cast a ballot this November. The voter registration date has already passed.

Election information as obtained from https://www.kerrvilletx.gov/312/Election on October 16.