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City voters strongly supported the amendment of the City Charter at the November 6, 2018, election. Thirty-two ballot propositions were approved and the updated Charter is available on the City website at HuntsvilleTX.gov/Charter. The Charter functions for the City in a similar way the Constitution does for the United States, although the City Charter also works with the Texas Constitution and state statute.
The 2017-2018 City Charter Review Committee evaluated the City Charter from November until June, and their recommendations were presented to the City Council on June 19. Former Mayor Pro Tem Keith D. Olson served as the Chair of the Committee and led the Council workshop on the proposals. Olson urged the Council to carefully consider all the topics brought forward, as the Committee had, to thoroughly address needed updates to the Charter. He said the committee members decided that they would note all the items they felt needed attention, even if there was not complete agreement on exactly how every one of them should be amended.
“We had many good conversations over the last few months, where a variety of perspectives came to light,” Olson said. “The [Committee] members weren’t in lockstep on how we viewed certain sections, which made for great discussions. It helped us get to know the Charter better, and think about how it can best serve our residents. I hope the Council will consider putting all of these up for our citizens to study and vote on.”
The five-member group included Olson as well as Councilmembers Clyde D. Loll and Tyler McCaffety, former Mayor Jane Monday, and former Councilmember Dalene Zender. The meetings were posted and open to the public. The Committee worked with charter officers and City directors to understand how particular provisions were carried out on a day to day basis, and what was made more difficult or could be improved by changes in the Charter.
“The Charter was first adopted by the City’s voters in 1968. Every five years, at a minimum, it gets reviewed,” clarified Olson. “Unfortunately, we found a lot that had not changed, or had only rarely been updated, in the last fifty years. As a foundational document as important as the Charter is, residents want to know that it’s practical and practiced to ensure the future of our great city.”
The City Council analyzed the Charter and contemplated what items should make it onto the November 6, 2018, ballot, ultimately placing all the recommendations and adding an additional proposition for vacancies in councilmember positions. The Council discussed proposed amendments at their July 17 and August 7 public meetings, and adopted an ordinance on August 7, calling the special Charter election and listing the ballot language for the final selections.
Per the Charter, a review must be done at least every five years. Per the Texas Constitution, a city charter cannot be amended more frequently than every two calendar years.
The current charter and prior versions were made available for viewing at HuntsvilleTX.gov/CouncilDocuments (for information & links) or at HuntsvilleTX.gov/Charter (for links only). Also accessible is the Charter Action Registry, a document compiled in 2014 that includes all the changes to Charter throughout its existence. A voters guide was placed online at HuntsvilleTX.gov/CharterVotersGuide, a Charter election page at HuntsvilleTX.gov/CharterElection, and all election information was offered at HuntsvilleTX.gov/Elections.
“Councilmember Loll had suggested [the Charter Action Registry] at one time, and it proved to be very helpful in our review process,” Olson recalled. “It enabled us to view changes over time and consider why things were written as they were.”
“City staff proved to be excellent resources for the process as well. City Secretary Lee Woodward and City Attorney Leonard Schneider were involved in the 2009 and 2013 charter elections, and City Manager Aron Kulhavy and former City Manager Matt Benoit clearly illustrated how certain charter provisions impacted City workflow and efficiencies. Finance Director Steve Ritter clarified financial procedures and state law requirements. We truly appreciated everyone’s assistance.”
For a change to become part of the Charter, it has to be approved by the voters. During the early voting and election day periods for the November 6, 2018, election, City voters indicated their consent, with all amendments being adopted. One received 59.95% passage, one got 67.03%, and the other thirty had rates ranging through the 70s, 80s, and 90s.
"We are so appreciative that voters took time to educate themselves and vote such a long ballot," said City Secretary Lee Woodward. "The City of Richardson, Texas, had 85 charter amendments adopted a few years ago, but they vote electronically. There was concern about voter fatigue here for a ballot of eight sides (four separate sheets of paper), but no one should underestimate our citizens. We visited with civic groups, took phone calls, and replied to emails, as did the Councilmembers. City residents understood the importance of their decision making power and asked questions and considered their options. It is very encouraging to see the will of the voters at work."
Olson served the City of Huntsville for eight years and reached the Charter's term limit this fall. His seat was won in the November 6, 2018, election by Councilmember Mari Montgomery.
For more information, contact the City Secretary's Office at 936-291-5403 or CitySecretary@HuntsvilleTX.gov.