Charter amendment status

| | Comments (1)

I attended Thursday night's Tulsa City Council meeting, when they once again went through the list of proposed charter amendments, and the public had the opportunity to comment. Here are some points I made and some I intended to make, but cut for the sake of time:

Councilor Bill Martinson had complained at Tuesday's committee meeting that the list of amendments needed to be "whittled down". He particularly wanted to get rid of the requirement for a councilor to resign if he ceased to reside in his district. (It's worth remembering that the backers of absentee Councilor Randy Sullivan, who would be affected by the amendment, also backed Martinson.) Recall that in 2004, Oklahoma voters had nine state questions plus as many as six offices on the ballot. One might disagree with the outcome, but Oklahomans were able to handle the complexity just fine. As in 2004, if all the remaining charter amendments are put to a vote, some, like the residency requirement, will be no-brainers, others will be controversial, but we can trust the voters.

Many of the amendments are not new, but have been proposed before. It's just that previous councils have declined to send them along for the voters' consideration, and so there's a significant backlog. Next March it will have been 10 years since any charter amendments have been sent to the voters. (Here is the list of all amendments since the adoption of the 1989 charter.)

Here's the list they were working with on Thursday (PDF file), with the longer, earlier list following. I'll use the numbering from that first page in my comments below.

Three items have to do with residency: 1a, 1b, 6.

The charter frequently uses the term "qualified elector" as a qualification for office, and in Article XII that term is defined as "a registered voter of the City of Tulsa, registered to vote as provided by the laws of Oklahoma." Unfortunately, this doesn't mean you actually live in Tulsa. As long as you live in a place when you register to vote, it's OK, under Oklahoma election laws, to keep your registration there, even if you move away. Item 1a would add the requirement to be a resident to the definition of "qualified elector."

Item 1b would require appointees to authorities, boards, and commissions (ABCs) to be qualified electors residing in Tulsa for a period of 90 days. Item 6 would require a councilor to live in his district and to resign if he moves out. If you're an elected or appointed city official, you ought to forfeit that office if you don't live in the city. If you're elected or appointed to serve a specific district, you ought to forfeit that office if you no longer live in the district. Here in America, we value geographical representation.

Items 1a and 1b were previously sent to the City Attorney for an initial draft. Thursday night, the Council voted 7-1 to send on item 6. The lone dissenter was Bill Martinson.

Item 4 would establish a time frame of 60 days for the Mayor to make appointments to ABCs. The Mayor can ask for an additional 60 days with Council approval. If the appointment still hasn't been made after the extension, the Council would be allowed to fill the position. This is necessary because under state law, the current appointee continues to serve after his term expires, until a replacement is approved. As things are today, if a Mayor wants an ABC member to remain, but doesn't think he can get Council approval to reappoint him, he can simply delay bringing the member up for reappointment, allowing the member to continue to serve and effectively bypassing the wishes of the Council. Terms expire periodically so that the Council and Mayor can decide whether an ABC member is representing the best interests of the City of Tulsa. This amendment would ensure that members of ABCs have a mandate from the people we elect to represent us. Item 4 was approved for an initial draft on August 18.

Item 5 would authorize the City Council to hire its own attorney independent from the oversight of the City Attorney. This is an item that I proposed at least five years ago. If checks and balances are to be effective, the legislative branch needs independent advice from an attorney whose sole responsibility is to serve the interests of the City Council. This is especially important when the Council and Mayor are at odds. Item 5 was approved for an initial draft on August 18.

Item 7 has to do with city election dates. There are only five or, rarely, six weeks between the city primary and the city general election. A state law passed this year (HB 1378) requires that there must be at least 35 days between the primary and the general election. We will meet that requirement in 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012 using our current election dates, so I'm not sure why the City Attorney is saying we may be forced to move the primary to an earlier date. If we do move election dates, moving the primary closer to New Year's would be the wrong approach. Move the general later in the year, or, my favorite option, move the whole election cycle to the fall of odd numbered years. It would be better for grass-roots campaigns if the elections could be conducted when there are more hours of sunshine and warmer weather for knocking on doors. It would be better for all campaigns if the month of December didn't fall in the midst of prime campaign season. Item 7 was approved for initial draft on August 18.

Items 3 and 10 require supermajorities for zoning changes in certain circumstances. Item 3 is the same proposition that was supposed to be on the April ballot (but the dog ate someone's homework), requiring a 3/4 supermajority to approve a zoning change if affected property owners or neighboring property owners got sufficient signatures a protest petition. Passing this would bring Tulsa back in line with state law and with our ordinance, which the City Attorney ruled a violation of the Charter. The only outstanding issue was whether to enshrine the minimum percentages for a protest petition in the Charter, and the consensus seemed to be to do so. Item 10 would impose a supermajority for any zoning change to property under Historic Preservation zoning. I'm concerned about unintended consequences with this one, and I'm not sure about enshrining a particular zoning overlay district in the Charter. Item 10 was approved on August 18 for initial draft. Item 3 we still have from when it was approved for the ballot this spring.

That leaves us with the two recall items, items 2 and 9. I refer you to my thoughts on reforming recall from a couple of days ago. Councilor Tom Baker brought forward a proposed amendment for the recall process, which was presented only after the public comments were over, so we neither saw it nor were able to comment on it. In any event, it was approved by a 7-to-Martinson vote for an initial draft by the City Attorney.

I left before item 9 -- complete removal of the recall provision from the charter -- was voted on. It failed to advance by a 4-4 vote, with Christiansen, Henderson, Mautino, and Turner voting yes, Baker, Martinson, Medlock, and Neal voting no. Medlock's vote was a bit of a surprise, but he expressed concern about voter confusion if two separate recall propositions -- mending it and ending it -- are on the ballot. Personally, I think the voters can handle it, and I'd like to see it move forward.

By the way, my nine-year-old son was with me for the whole two hour meeting. His GameBoy didn't work, but he sat there very quietly and patiently. I'm very proud of him.


michelle Author Profile Page said:

I understand the hesitation with respect to amendment no. 10 (supermajority for HP districts). Keep in mind, though, that the purpose of that amendment was to mirror amendment no. 3. Amendment no. 3 addresses the concerns of rezoning and how that affects those immediate neighbors; thus when those most affected by a rezoning petition object, the Council should be required to overcome an extreme burden before imposing it upon the neighborhood. By the same token, Tulsa's history, in many ways, belongs to the entire city, not just to those immediately adjecent to it. And when that history is destroyed (and rezoning does destroy part of the area), the same Council should be required to overcome an extreme burden. In either case, rezoning can still occur. It may be helpful to have clear standards as to why rezoning in an HP district should be allowed, such as loss of economic viability, mistake, or perhaps if rezoning would preserve the actual structure. Also remember that adopting HP zoning in the first place is not an easy process. If as few as one in five property owners disagree with the zoning, as a practical matter it will not be imposed.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 28, 2005 11:43 PM.

A stroll down Memory Aisle was the previous entry in this blog.

Overblown is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]