The City’s Charter Review Commission met Monday at City Hall as working groups began to explore issues that could lead to a possible City Charter amendment election this November.
Changes to how the City’s Ethics Review Board operates, moving municipal elections from May to November, and staggering City Council terms are among the topics the commission will be investigating.
Citizens last voted to amend the City Charter in May 2004, resulting in an independent ethics review board with jurisdiction over the ethics code and the City’s campaign finance regulations.
Mayor Ivy Taylor said appointed commission members’ work is vital to improving the efficiency of municipal government functions.
“This is an area that most people don’t spend much time thinking about in City government, but it does lay the foundation and format for how we do business as a community,” Taylor said.
The commission is acting in an advisory manner and will make final recommendations to City Council later this summer. Council’s final opportunity to consider proposals for a charter amendment election this year will be Aug. 17, and the final day to order a Nov. 7 election is Aug. 21.
Some of the issues the Charter Commission is tasked with are based on Council Consideration Requests (CCR).
The Ethics Review Board plans to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall to examine some of the procedural and operational recommendations made by Councilmen Roberto Treviño (D1), Rey Saldaña (D4), and Ron Nirenberg (D8). They include:
- Council appointments made by outside institutions (universities, chambers of commerce, bar associations);
- Commit the review board to consider all ethics complaints;
- Eliminate the Council’s ability to waive alleged violations;
- Make the ethics compliance auditor an independently hired employee of the Ethics Review Board rather than one of the City auditor;
- Restrict the City Attorney’s Office from providing ethical guidance to City employees and officials to further the review board’s independent status.
These issues surfaced after the Council voted 8-2 in January 2016 to waive Taylor’s ethics code violations.
The violation stemmed from an instance in which Taylor and her husband, Rodney, collected income from Section 8 housing vouchers on properties they managed between the time she was interim mayor and the months leading up to her mayoral election win.
The City’s ethics code came into play because the mayor is responsible for appointing board members to the San Antonio Housing Authority, which manages the voucher program.
Taylor called the violation an oversight, but it sparked a wider discussion, and other City leaders called for a review of policies affecting the City’s ethics code.
Last month, Carlton Soules, former Councilman and current political consultant to mayoral candidate Manuel Medina, filed a complaint with the City Clerk’s Office, challenging how the Ethics Review Board addresses ethics code violations.
Commission member Art Hall, a former Council member in District 8, expressed interest in spearheading an examination of the Ethics Review Board issues. Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10) said he’d be willing to take on two issues related to Council elections and composition.
The Charter Review Commission will revisit regulations on the number of terms a mayor or Council member can serve, staggering terms, and/or extending term length from two years to four years.
It will also consider Nirenberg’s CCR to move City elections from May to November to increase voter participation.
Commission Chairman and former District 10 Councilman Jeff Webster said verifying candidates’ residencies has come up as a hot-button topic in election-related discussions, likely do to recent debates surrounding the residencies of Council candidates Manny Pelaez in District 8 and Lynlie Wallace in District 9.
City Clerk Leticia Vacek said these topics could lead to a more in-depth review of how people file for elected public office.
“I think it’s something we should at least discuss because we are talking about how to be more efficient,” Taylor said.
Additionally, the commission will study Councilman Treviño’s CCR to expand the Planning Commission to 11 members so the mayor and all 10 Council districts are represented.
Currently, Council appoints nine at-large residents to the Planning Commission. Treviño has said that this format does not allow for the whole city to be adequately represented.
Webster said the Charter Review Commission is eager to hold one public hearing in the City Council chambers soon.
There, the commission could obtain feedback on ideas that are currently on the table, and residents could propose their own potential charter amendments.
“Any idea a citizen brings forward is due a level of respect and consideration,” Webster said. “A lot of things have bubbled up in the news and are public knowledge, but there are other things the community should be aware of.”