Kingsville city commissioners elected to office in the future could serve twice as long, according to proposed changes to the city’s charter that could be put before voters in May.
The city commission were presented the proposed amendments to the city charter on Monday that, if placed on the ballot and approved by voters in the May general election, would stagger the mayor and commission seats in the biennial elections and extend office terms to four years among other changes.
The city commission approved the formation of a seven-member charter review committee in May 2019, with each commissioner appointing one person to the committee and the remaining two members approved by the commission as a whole by vote.
The committee was selected and approved in June. City Attorney Courtney Alvarez and other city staff also worked with the committee to review the proposed amendments to five sections of Article V of the Kingsville City Charter presented to the commissioners.
During Monday’s meeting, Alvarez said the last charter review had been conducted in 2006.
“The charter review committee simply reviews and makes recommendations,” she said. “The council is not obligated to take the recommendations and put them on a ballot. They’re just for your consideration.”
Alvarez said the commissioners could accept “some, none or all” or make modifications to the recommendations.
Alvarez said the amendment proposals were brought to the commission during the first meeting in January to allow the city commissioners time to review and “think about what you might want to do.”
“And then at the next meeting, come back and give us a little more detail or comment on how you want to proceed,” she said.
The proposed amendments include a change to the terms of office for the mayor and city commissioners under Article V, Section 2 of the Kingsville City Charter from the current two-year terms to four-year staggered terms.
As proposed, beginning with this year’s general election, the elected mayor along with the commissioners receiving the first- and third-most votes would hold the positions for four years.
The elected commissioners receiving the second- and fourth-most votes would hold their offices for a two-year term, until the next biennial election, at which time the persons elected in 2022 would then serve four-year terms, the memo states.
Commissioner Hector Hinojosa said he would prefer all of the commissioners be set to expanded four-year terms that coincide with one another rather than on staggered terms as outlined in the proposal.
In addition, another proposal under Article V, Section 24 would double the restriction length on recall petitions filed against any city officer from the current six months to one year after election or appointment, recall election or within the expiration of their term.
Commissioner Dianne Leubert said she was hesitant about the proposed change. Alvarez said the thinking was that if the commission decides to move forward with four-year terms, it would allow commissioners at least one year “for people to see if they’re going to be meeting their expectations.
If the commission elected to stay with the current two-year terms, then the committee’s preference would be to keep the restriction at six months.
“But you can do a lot of damage in 12 months, so I’m torn on that one,” Leubert said.
Under Article V, Section 4, the review committee’s proposal recommends removing the qualification that the mayor and each commissioner not be arrears in the payment of any taxes or other liabilities to local taxing entities. Alvarez said there are “differing opinions across the state” in regards to prohibiting someone from running for office because they are in arrears.
“Essentially like you are penalizing them for being a pauper, perhaps,” she said. “And so depending on what court of appeal you’re in, that may or may not be valid, but the state Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on it.”
Leubert said she was personally in favor of leaving that language as is. Hinojosa agreed, saying that “it doesn’t look good for us to owe taxes to our taxpayers.”
“Here, we’re asking them to pay their taxes, but yet we’re not paying our fair share,” he said.
Another change in Section 4, which would add language that the candidates should have resided in the city for a continuous period of 12 months immediately preceding election day, Alvarez said was something that complies with the state election code.
Under Article V, Section 12, a change would modify the meeting time for the meeting when the commissioners would qualify and assume the duties of their offices, held on the first Thursday after the election, from the current 7:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The final proposed change, under Article V, Section 17, would change language that all ordinances, other than emergency measures, be published once a week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper publicly circulated in Kingsville. The current language states that the newspaper must be published in Kingsville.
While not in the recommended changes, Mayor Pro tem Edna Lopez asked about modifying the charter to rename the city commission to a city council.
“(Commission’s) not used anymore,” Lopez said. “Usually with cities around here, it’s a city council.”
Alvarez said they would look into it and bring something back to the commission at the next meeting.
Discussion and possible action on the amendments, proposals will be on the agenda for the next Kingsville City Commission meeting scheduled for Jan. 27. The commission has until Feb. 10 to decide if any or all of the proposed amendments will be placed on the ballot for the May 2 election.