KETR

Commerce Ballot Initiatives Would Affect Role Of Council, City Manager

May 5, 2016

The City of Commerce is holding its municipal election this Saturday. The ballot also includes 10 propositions. That’s kind of a lot for a city election, so KETR invited former Commerce council member Jason Cunningham to explain these ballot measures. Cunningham is the owner of Commerce-based Benson Brothers towing and lived in Commerce for many years before moving to his current home in Hopkins County.

Mark Haslett: Full disclosure: Cunningham is not an impartial observer of Commerce politics. When I spoke with Cunningham, it was obvious that he favored all 10 propositions. KETR does not endorse or oppose candidates or ballot initiatives. But Cunningham does a pretty good job of translating legalese into English, so I decided that his descriptions of the propositions would be useful, even to those listeners who end up voting against the ballot measures.

When it comes to elections, KETR’s wish list has only one item: We do hope that all registered voters participate in Saturday’s elections, wherever you might live. So: On to the propositions.

Jason Cunningham: Proposition 1 is talking about the municipal court. Of course, the municipal court has always been established in Commerce. This is not establishing a new court. The only change to that is that it says that the judge serves solely at the pleasure of the city council.

Haslett: Again, this is not creating a new court, just placing the existing municipal court squarely under the authority of the city council. Cunningham said that in the past, there had been ambiguity about whether the court served under the council or the city manager. Proposition 1 says, city council. Proposition 2 makes mayoral and city council member terms three years instead of two. That’s the only proposed change from the current schedule change – three-year terms, not two. Proposition three deals with qualifications for city council.

Cunningham: This stipulates clearly that you cannot be convicted of a felony. It says that you have to have your residency has to be proven. As of right now, you go in and file it with City Secretary, but you don’t have to prove anything. Well now you’ve got to be able to prove that you live there. You have to be able to prove that you’ve been registered to vote. You have to prove that your taxes are paid. When you show that you have to live here, and one of the things they put in there is at least 12 months from the deadline filing for office.

Haslett: Proposition 4 staggers the election years for council members. There would be a three-year cycle. Year one, two council places on the ballot, year two, the other two council places, year three, the mayor, then starting over again. Proposition 5: Authorizing the council to remove a council member who is disqualified from office, either by moving out of town or because of having legal trouble. 

Cunningham: This thing handles everything from misconduct to malfeasance, incompetence, to violation of the charter to violation of any law that comes into play. If you violate those things and are no longer qualified to be on the city council, then there’s a removal action that’s in place.  We currently don’t have one.

Haslett: The measure also says that a petition of 25 Commerce residents could also remove a disqualified council member if the council itself, for whatever reason, doesn’t act. Propositions 6 and 7 relate to the council as a whole having the authority to authorize an investigation of a city department. The current system allows a single council member to authorize an investigation. Prop 8 gives the city manager the authority to hire and fire department heads without the prior approval of the council. Proposition 9 would prohibit the city council from direct management of city staff, who would be under the sole supervision of the city manager. And Prop 10 would put the city secretary under the supervision of the city manager, not the city council. And yes, we know that ballot measures don’t translate real well into radio. That’s why you can find a transcript of this story, along with a sample ballot, online at KETR.org. For KETR news, this is Mark Haslett.

SAMPLE BALLOT

Mayor, City of Commerce, Two Year Term

Vote for None or One

— Wyman Williams

— John R. Sands

City Council Place 2, City of Commerce Two Year Term

Vote for None or One

— Beckey Thompson

City Council Place 4, City of Commerce, Two Year Term

Vote for None or One

— David McKenna

— Gene Lockhart

— Teresa A. Miller

— Emma Martin

City of Commerce, Proposition 1

Should Section 13 of the City Charter, relating to the municipal court, be amended to hereafter read as follows:

“Section 13. The municipal court

There is hereby established a municipal court, which shall have the jurisdiction and powers as allowed under the laws of the State of Texas, and as may be conferred by the city council, and the municipal court judge shall serve solely at the pleasure of the council.”

Vote for None or One

— For

— Against

City of Commerce, Proposition 2

Should Section 18 of the City Charter, relating to the city council, be amended to read as follows:

“Sec. 18 - The city council

Except as otherwise provided in the charter, all powers of the City of Commerce shall be vested in the city council of five (5) members, consisting of the mayor and four other council members. The members of the city council shall:

(1) be elected from the city at large;

(2) except for the mayor, be elected by place number;

(3) serve without compensation, and

(4) serve for three-year terms.”

Vote for None or One

— For

— Against

City of Commerce, Proposition 3

Should Section 18 of the City Charter, relating to the city council, be amended by the addition of Section 18.2 thereto, to read as follows:

“Section 18.2, Qualifications for members of city council.

Each member of the council shall be at least eighteen years of age or older, a citizen of the United States of America, a resident of the State of Texas for at least twelve (12) months as of the deadline of filing for office and a bona fide resident residing within the territorial limits of the City of Commerce for at least twelve (12) months as of the deadline for filing for office, and must present to the City Secretary a current voter’s identification card and a valid photo ID that matches the card for verification purposes, and shall not have delinquent ad valorem taxes, or have been convicted of a felony, been adjudged to be mentally incompetent by a court, or be disqualified by reason for any provision of any other section of this Charter or Chapter 141 of the Texas Election Code. For the purposes of this section, a bona fide residence shall be defined as a place in which the person actually resides, prima facie evidence of which may include a utility account in the name of the person, or his/her spouse, parent or child with whom he/she actually resides.

Vote for None or One

— For

— Against

City of Commerce, Proposition 4

Should Section 19 of the City Charter, relating to the organization of the city council, be amended to read as follows:

“Section 19, Organization of the city council.

The terms of service for city council members shall for a term of three (3) years, and shall be staggered as follows:

Place One and Place Three

Place Two and Place Four

Mayor

The Mayor and City Council members shall be elected from the City at large by a majority vote of the qualified voters at an election held for that purpose. In the event no candidate for the office of Mayor or Council member shall receive a majority of the votes cast for said office, a run-off election shall be held not earlier than 10th or later than the 30th day after the date the final canvass of the regular election is completed at which time the names of the two candidates having the greatest number of votes in the regular election shall be placed on the ballot. Such runoff election shall be conducted in the same manner as a regular election.”

Vote for None or One

— For

— Against

City of Commerce, Proposition 5

Should Section 20 of the City Charter relating to vacancies of city council offices, be amended by the addition of Section 20.1 thereto, to read as follows:

“Section 20.1 Forfeiture of office.

A) A member of the council shall immediately forfeit or be removed from his/her office by the council or by any other means authorized by law for:

1. Ceasing to possess any of the qualifications specified in this section or in any other section of the Charter, including but not limited to, residency requirements.

2. Delinquencies on ad valorem taxes while in office;

3. Willful violation of any express prohibition of this Charter;

4. Failure to attend three (3) consecutive regular meetings or six (6) regular meetings of the council within any single council term year without being excused by the council;

5. Willful violation of any code of ethics or conflicts of interest provision under state or federal law, or city ordinance;

6. Misconduct, malfeasance, incompetence, inability or willful neglect in performance of official duties;

7. Being convicted of a felony or any offense involving moral turpitude, being placed on felony probation or placed on deferred adjudication for any offense involving moral turpitude, or being otherwise subject to any form of court supervision following disposition or resolution of a felony charge or any offense involving moral turpitude.

B) A removal action by the council may be instituted on its own initiative, or shall be instituted by petition by twenty-five or more Commerce residents who are registered voters and who are eligible to vote in the City of Commerce elections, and any final decision to remove a council member shall be by the majority vote of council members holding office with the exception of the challenged member. The challenged member shall have the right to written articles of removal, an opportunity to be heard, to be represented by counsel, to summon witnesses who shall be required to give testimony, and to reasonable advance notice of the hearing. The burden of proof shall be on those bringing the charges. The hearing shall be open to the public and the conclusions and findings shall be final. If the member is removed, a complete statement of the reasons therefore shall be filed with the City Secretary. The council shall additionally have the authority to reprimand or suspend a member for a period of not more than 30 days if removal is not warranted.

C) The council shall be the judge of the qualifications of its members and for these purposes shall have the power to subpoena witnesses and require the production of records.

D) Pending charges for removal, the council may suspend the challenged member from office for a period not to exceed thirty days by the majority vote of all council members holding office with the exception of the challenged member.

E) A member who is removed from office, whether pursuant to this section, by recall or other legal proceedings, or who resigns after any such proceedings have been initiated, shall not be eligible to be appointed to or run as a candidate for city office for two years from the date of removal, recall or resignation.”

Vote for None or One

— For

— Against

City of Commerce, Proposition 6

Should Section 27, subsection (4) of the City Charter, relating to the powers of city council members, be amended to read as follows”

“Section 17. Powers of city council members, Subsection (4).

(4) To inquire by resolution into the conduct of any office, department, or agency of the City of Commerce and make investigations as to municipal affairs.”

Vote for None or One

— For

— Against

City of Commerce, Proposition 7

Should Section 28 of the City Charter, relating to investigation by city council be amended to read as follows:

“Section 28. Investigation by city council.

The city council shall have power to inquire by resolution into the conduct of any office, department, agency or officer of the city and to make investigations as to municipal affairs, and for such purposes may subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, and compel the production of books, papers and other evidence. Failure to obey such subpoena or to produce such books, papers and other evidence as ordered under the provisions of this section of this Charter shall constitute a misdemeanor and shall be punishable by fine not exceeding two hundred dollars ($200)”

Vote for None or One

— For

— Against

City of Commerce, Proposition 8

Should Section 31 of the City Charter, relating to the responsibility of the city manager, be amended to read as follows:

“Section 31. Responsibility of the city manager

The city manager shall be responsible to the city council for the efficient and economical administration of the city government. The city manager shall have the power to remove all department heads. The city manager may appoint for an indefinite term only, and shall have the power to remove all other employees of the administrative services of the City of Commerce, excepting as otherwise provided in this Charter. The city manager may authorize the head of a department to appoint and remove subordinates in said respective department.

Vote for None or One

— For

— Against

City of Commerce, Proposition 9

Should Section 32 of the City Charter, relating to city council acting through city manager, be amended to read as follows:

“Section 32. City council to act through city manager

Neither the city council, not any of its members, shall direct the appointment or removal of any person from office by the city manager or by any of his or her subordinates. Except for the purpose of inquiry by resolution, the city council and its members shall deal with the administrative service solely through the city manager. Neither the council, nor any member thereof, shall give any instruction to any subordinate of city manager, either publicly or privately.”

Vote for None or One

— For

— Against

City of Commerce, Proposition 10

Should Section 35 of the City Charter, relating to the city secretary, be amended to read as follows:

“Section 32. The city secretary

The city secretary shall be appointed and removed upon recommendation of the city manager with approval from the city council. It is the duty of the city secretary to keep the records of the city council, and to serve also an ex officio treasurer of the City of Commerce. The city secretary shall countersign all checks and bonds, and shall serve as clerk of the city council and keep the journal of its proceedings.”

Vote for None or One

— For

— Against