Monday, March 26, 2007

Pasadena City Charter and Bored with Texas Politics

Lately I have been incredibly bored and depressed about Texas politics. Good thing Grits for Breakfast is keeping up with legal and judicial stuff. Texas Lefty Feed gives me enough info on Texas politics to decide I don't want to know any more. Don't get me started on Dan Patrick - baby buyer.

The only thing I have kept up with a little is Pasadena City Charter election. Pat Van Houte has done a Pro and Con list on each of this year's charter amendments. I helped her with the formatting which is why some of it is messed up. (Damn you paragraph tabbing controls.) She should send it off to the Pasadena Citizen as a letter to the Editor.

She wants to print off more than a thousand copies if she could get someone to fund it. So far the only people who are interested in that are those who want it to say vote YES on everything or vote NO on everything. The only amendment I am 100% in favor of is raising the City Council pay. Keeping the mayor but adding a very well paid City Manager is not necessarily a step in the right direction. There actually seems less power for Pasadena citizens in the amendments, not more, which is going in the wrong direction. There is a group opposed to the Charter revisions.

I told you this much I might as well import the whole thing.

Proposed Charter Changes

The Home Rule Charter is a set of laws that defines how the city is run. The charter can only be changed with voter approval. The charter was voted into existence in 1964, and has been changed in 1975 and 1992. This May, in addition to the city council election, there will be nine proposed charter changes on the ballot. You the voters decide which of these changes you want in Pasadena.

Proposition 1: To change from the strong mayor/council form of government to city manager/council.

For: The city manager would be trained for this type work, and have experience.
Having a city manager should cut down on politics affecting city employees. They would not have to fear being fired whenever there is an election.
If there are problems, council can terminate the city manager, rather than having to wait for the next election to get someone else.

Against: A good city manager for a city the size of Pasadena would cost more than we pay the mayor. Also, if the city manager is terminated, the city might be obligated to pay out the rest of his contract.
Voters would not be choosing the person who administers the city government.
As this proposition is written, council members would not be allowed much contact with other city employees, which would hinder their effectiveness.

Either system can be good or bad, depending on the person in the position.

Proposition 2: To allow the CEO (mayor or city manager, depending on the results of proposition 1) to choose the city attorney. Currently the charter does not specify who selects the city attorney. This would allow the CEO to select the city attorney, subject to council approval. The city attorney could only be removed by city council. The city attorney would hire and fire all other employees of the legal department.

For: This would keep control of the city attorney under council, regardless whether we have a strong mayor or a city manager. Control of the rest of the legal department would be under the city attorney, rather than under the mayor or city manager.

Against: If it has been working the way it is, why change it?

Proposition 3: To raise city council salary from $300/month to $600/month.

For: There is a lot of time involved in reading agenda items, going to various meetings, and helping constituents.
Council members are currently getting less than minimum wage for their time.

Against: It would cost the city $28,800 more each year.
Some cities don’t pay council anything; it is considered an honor to serve.

Proposition 4: To change to 3-year terms for mayor and council. Terms would be overlapping, with four districts elected one year, the other four districts and the mayor elected the next year, and one year with no election.

For: This would provide continuity of government, because there would never be all new people. There would always be some experienced people remaining, in the positions not up for election that year.
A 3-year term would allow more time to do things before starting to run for election again.

Against: There would be more confusion about who votes when. Some districts would vote once every three years, and some twice in three years. In districts where the council election is not the same year as the mayor, if the councilmember runs for mayor and wins, the city would then have to have a special election to replace that council member. Both of these things would cost more.
The districts where the council seat is up for election the same year as the mayor might have a higher turnout, and therefore more weight in electing the mayor.

Proposition 5: To change term limits to nine years total as a councilmember and nine years as mayor. This would be a permanent limit; after reaching this the person could not sit out a term and run again.

For: This would avoid having the same people keep coming back in office. New people would bring new ideas.
It can be difficult to beat someone who has experience and name recognition. It may be more expensive to run against such a person.

Against: A district that is happy with a particular councilmember would not be allowed to keep that person in office.
A person who wants to continue to serve the city in this way would not be allowed to do so.

Proposition 6: To change the procedure for a city employee to appeal, if terminated. Also switches an appeal by a finance department employee from council to the Appeals Board. Both the time period in which to file an appeal and the amount of notice of the date of the hearing would be shortened.

For: The decision of the Appeals Board would be final. Eliminating council approval shortens the process.
Council would not be “second guessing” the Appeals Board.

Against: A department head or an employee who has been with the city less than one year could not appeal.
City council would have no control over terminations.

Proposition 7: To clarify the city’s powers. This adds the power and authority for the city to act for beautification, economic well being, trade, and commerce. It eliminates references to obsolete laws.

For: The expanded definition of city powers could reduce the likelihood of legal action.

Against: This makes it easier for the city to take property by eminent domain, and increases the number of reasons for which property could be taken.

Proposition 8: Regarding city financial audits. This eliminates quarterly uncertified audits, and retains annual certified audits. A CPA would be chosen through a city council request for proposals, rather than being appointed by the mayor.

For: Having audits less frequently would cost less.

Against: With audits done less frequently, if there is a problem, it could take longer before it is discovered.

Proposition 9: Ethics. This requires city council to adopt an ethics ordinance, review it each year, and enforce it.

For: This will provide standards for ethical behavior for officials and employees of the city.

Against: The charter already requires following state law. This does not add details specifying what will be covered by the ordinance or how it will be enforced.

Because this will be a joint election, run by Harris County, it will not be using the same locations normally used for a city election. The location will be determined by your precinct, with most precincts in a district combined. If you do not know where you will be voting, call Harris County at (713)755-5792.

No comments: