October 11, 2017

Charter Amendment Propositions on November Ballot

When Bellaire voters go to the polls on November 7, in addition to the usual races for Mayor and City Council we’ll have the opportunity to amend our City Charter for the first time in 11 years.  The Charter is what makes us a home-rule municipality and is the foundational instrument of our self-governance, in essence our “constitution.”  As such, it belongs to and can be amended only by the people at an election called for that purpose.

The City of Bellaire, when its population reached 5,000, became a home-rule municipality upon adoption of the Charter at an election held April 2, 1949.  Prior to that, it had been a general-law municipality from the time of its incorporation in 1918.  That original Charter has since been revised three times, in 1983, 1987 and 2006.

Recognizing that we hadn’t formally reviewed the Charter in over a decade, and having encountered a few provisions that seemed outdated, last year the City Council appointed a citizen Charter Review Commission to conduct an independent review and report back with proposed amendments.  Facilitated by a Texas attorney who specializes in city charters (yes, there is such a thing!), and with the guidance and support of our City Attorney, the Commission diligently worked through the document and presented its final report to City Council in June of this year, right on schedule.  The Commission recommended a number of amendments, which the City Council voted in August to put on the ballot with just a few further revisions.

The several proposed amendments are grouped into 18 individual ballot propositions.  (As an aside, in case you’re wondering as I did why this year’s propositions are lettered rather than numbered as we’re accustomed to seeing, that’s now a requirement under new state law.)  It seems like an awful lot and feels rather tedious, but that’s pretty much the nature of charter elections.  (For comparison, our last charter election in 2006 featured 23 propositions.)  Generally, the proposed amendments would update the Charter to conform to changes in state law, eliminate antiquated and outdated references, clean up and combine sections for efficiency, and resolve ambiguities.  There are also propositions to update certain aspects of the Charter to bring them more in line with those of similar cities, including one that would replace the existing, cumbersome Council compensation structure with a flat monthly stipend.  Finally, some clarifications are offered to ensure consistency with our council-manager form of government.

As with all elections, and especially on propositions that are rather technical and involve a bit of legalese, it’s important that our voters have access to good information on which to base their decisions.  To that end, as we did for last year’s bond election we’ll present the Charter propositions in detail at a town hall meeting this coming Monday, October 16, and on a dedicated page on the City website.

Special thanks to the members of the Charter Review Commission—Chair Neil Verma, Vice Chair Jill Almaguer, James P. Avioli, Sr., Doug Christians and Aaron Swerdlin—and to facilitator Charlie Zech, City Attorney Alan Petrov and Council Liaison Trisha S. Pollard, for all of their hard work on this important project.