The final public Charter Commission meeting on June 30, prior to the commission’s recommendation to the Flower Mound Town Council, resulted in an agreement of what those recommendations will be.
The Charter Commission was appointed on March 21 of this year and was tasked with determining if the Town Charter should be amended in 2016 and, if so, what issues should be addressed. Following a series of work sessions and the initial public meeting on June 21, commissioners focused on nine specific topics to discuss.
“We need to look at these [topics] and determine what our recommendations [to Town Council] will be,” said former mayor and non-voting Commission chair Jody Smith.
She outlined the options as: create the language needed to recommend Town Council putting an item on the [November] ballot as a Charter change; recommending that council consider an item as a policy—not Charter—change; agreeing that the Commission give further review of an item; or, take no action, which means keeping an item as written in the current Town Charter.
In attendance were voting commissioners Kia Mastey, Connie Smith, Tim Trotter and Amy Wallace, while Robert Rawson was present via a conference call.
The first item under consideration related to clarifying language for additional eminent domain notification; using private property for public purpose. It was determined that it should be a “housekeeping” policy item, not a charter issue, for better communication. The vote was four-to-one; Wallace voted against.
A proposed Charter amendment creating a process to follow in the event a Charter violation might occur by either the Town Mayor or Council member was the second– and most-discussed—agenda item.
Jody Smith reported that Charter Review Commissioners have heard unanimously from residents that a process is needed for action in determining– and responding to– Charter violations by either a mayor or council members.
The public interest in creating a violation procedure stems from the ongoing investigation of alleged Charter Ethics Code violations following the May 2015 election by council members Itamar Gelbman and Brian Rountree. Rountree resigned in October after agreeing to testify under oath as part of an independent investigation of violations to the town’s ethics ordinance.
Because there’s no existing procedure to follow regarding a violation: the town spent $35,000 for an independent investigator; created a divisive community atmosphere; and, led to Flower Mound being ridiculed as a “circus” in DFW media outlets.
Mastey said the Commission should create the language outlining its recommendation to the council that a Charter amendment for this item should be put on the November ballot.
Trotter agreed, saying: “We need a process; a trial or a [public] hearing—like the Carrollton model– to allow comments [from the voters].”
He went on to propose possible two-step procedures: one alternative might be a “learning-curve” or “grace” period for possible violations by a new mayor or council members; another approach might be to have a “warning” issued to the alleged violator before an actual charge is assigned.
Resident Randall Wilson commented that: “Ignorance is no defense.” He added that newly-elected officials are provided a complete information packet—including the Charter—so they “can hit the ground running.”
Ultimately, the commissioners unanimously outlined their amendment recommendation to include: 1 – a written, sworn complaint filed by a council member and presented to the mayor (or, if against the mayor, then to Mayor Pro Tem; 2 – the accused will also receive the complaint; 3 – a public hearing date will be scheduled; 4 – a majority vote [three of five] by council in needed to hear a complaint, but a super majority vote [four of five] will be required to find the violator guilty of a violation; 5 – the presiding officer shall enter a judgment to remove the charged member and declare the council seat empty; 6 – the removed member will not be able to be re-elected to Town Council for two-years; and, 7 – if a vacancy occurs, the council shall follow Charter regulations to fill it.
The commissioners also determined that if council lists this as a charter amendment on the November ballot and it passes, it will become effective as of the canvassing of the election results.
The commissioners next decided not to recommend any change to either the two-year council term or the unlimited number of consecutive terms for elected officials. As Rawson said via his long-distance conference call: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
Jody Smith said that extending terms to three-years would prove less disruptive to town staff, but other commissioners pointed out that council members are better held responsible for their actions with two-year term limits.
The vote to “leave well-enough alone” was four-to-one; Wallace voting against.
The topic of expanding the size of the Town Council was also deemed as not something needing to be changed, this time unanimously. The commissioners questioned the effect of a change on both the town Master Plan and the council super-majority vote requirement.
A recommendation to change the current council at-large structure to that of single-member districts (SMD)—specific voting district representation– was also denied by a four-to-one vote; again, Wallace voted against maintaining the current Charter.
The Commission unanimously recommended a Charter amendment to change Parks, Arts and Library Services (PALS) Board to that of Parks Board. It was noted arts and library services are already covered under other boards and the change would allow the Parks Department to focus financially on the town’s parks and trails.
The final three agenda items unanimously approved to be recommended as Charter amendments were correcting current Charter wording: to remove the text of “and the State Comptroller of Public Accounts at Austin” and instead add the text “and the Tarrant County Clerk’s office” in Section 9.10 of the Town Charter; to remove the text of “to cause only the caption of duly enacted ordinance to be published except as provided otherwise by law” from section 3.07 (w) of the Town Charter; and, to remove the two references of the word “department” from section 9.14 of the Town Charter.
All Charter Review Commission final recommendations will be presented to the Town Council at its August 1 meeting; two-weeks prior to council’s August 15 deadline for adding Charter amendments to the November 8 ballot.
A municipal charter is the basic document that defines the organizations, powers, and functions of a municipality, while also governing the actions of Town Council and staff.
The Town Council is required by Charter to begin a review of the Charter every fifth year, with the option of conducting the review itself, or to appoint a Charter Review Commission (CRC), with a minimum of five members.
The Flower Mound Home Rule Charter was originally adopted in 1981. It has been amended five times; most recently in May 2012. A Charter Review may not be conducted more frequently than every two-years.