Change Coming?

Mayor Randy Collins, left, takes the oath of office, selected by his fellow council members rather than the public.  A petition circulating now calls for mayors to be the top vote-getters among at-large council members instead.

El Campo voters may have more input into who holds the city mayor’s post in future years thanks to a petition gaining support.

If successful, the petition will force the city to put a proposed charter amendment on the upcoming May ballot asking citizens if the top vote-getter out of at-large candidates should take the top spot.

“We want voters to decide. If they decide they like the way it is, that’s good enough for me,” City Councilman Chris Barbee said Monday.

Currently, the public only votes to select the seven people who will serve on city council – four district posts and three at-large. Council decides who’s in charge after that.

Barbee and Councilman David Hodges’ proposed amendment would make the top vote-getter among the three candidates winning at-large posts the mayor for the next two years.

“We wanted it to be at-large because the whole town votes on them,” Barbee said.

The proposed amendment went before the annual Charter Review Commission in September. The seven-member board, which includes two former mayors, three former city council members and the husband of a former city manager, rejected the proposal 2-4-1. Commissioners Karen Middlebrook and Bobby Perez voted for it while commissioners Ed Erwin, Tommy Hitzfield, Richard Young and Jeff Snyder voted against.

Commissioner Steve Ward abstained saying he preferred a proposal that would allow El Campo citizens to directly elect their mayor. That measure was presented to the review commission in October. It died there in a 1-5 vote with only Ward in support. Young was absent that day.

The petition, Barbee said, should have enough signatures to present within the next two weeks.

Its proposed language has already been reviewed by three attorneys, one of which specializes in voting rights, he said.

“It only defines how mayors are elected,” he said, adding that was not addressed by the Department of Justice in earlier reviews of El Campo’s voting methods.

Barbee has joined the effort in trying to get petition support. “Of the 200 or so I’ve talked to, only one person said they liked it the way it was,” he said.

The petition needs 5 percent of the city’s registered voters to proceed, an estimated 325 of the roughly 6,500 on the rolls. Barbee, however, is planning on 350 to 400 confirmed names before presentation.

The Charter Review Commission will conduct a public hearing on the issues it believes should be on the next ballot at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12 in City Council Chambers, 315 E. Jackson.

Most of the proposed amendments are largely clean up, bringing the governing document into compliance with state law on extending boundaries and nepotism laws, for example, and properly listing the Planning & Zoning Commission by that name in all references.

Another, if approved, would eliminate language making the city manager “the chief conservator of the peace within the city” and allow the manager to miss a council meeting under reasonable circumstances.

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