As signatures on the mayor-choice charter amendment petition continue to be verified, city council has decided to seek a legal opinion on its possible effect.

Approved 5-2 Monday night with Councilmen Chris Barbee and David Hodges against, the Austin law firm of Knight & Partners which specializes in local government issues will review the petition to ensure there’s no conflict with an earlier Department of Justice ruling.

“I don’t think there will be, but this will give the city an added layer of protection,” City Attorney Ronny Collins said Monday.

The petition, sponsored by Barbee and Hodges, seeks to place a charter amendment on the upcoming May 2020 ballot. If approved, the amendment would make the top vote-getter in the at-large council post election the mayor of El Campo for the next two years.

Currently, the public has no direct voice in how the mayor is selected. Instead, city council decides among its own members each year who will be the mayor.

The council action, Barbee said, wasn’t needed.

“I voted no because I had pre-cleared the charter amendment language with three attorneys before starting the process of obtaining signatures. In fact, an El Campo attorney assisted in composing the petition language, a Wharton attorney signed off on it, as did a well-respected San Antonio voting rights attorney who has successfully represented voter cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. I voted no because I could not see spending taxpayer money on a law firm to confirm what three other attorneys had already approved.”

Councilman Hodges expressed a similar view.

“I voted no because I think that this is a waste of taxpayer money. A new law in 2013 states that the DOJ no longer needs to ok this in advance. The city attorney gave this information to council last night yet council still voted to hire outside council to review this. It is clear that the majority of council does not favor letting the voters have a say in how El Campo chooses the mayor. They have fought this every step of the way,” Hodges said.

The review will be done in a timely fashion, Collins said, adding it would not prevent the proposed amendment from being placed on the May 2020 ballot, assuming the proper number of voter signatures are verified, unless a problem is noted.

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