Proposed City of San Angelo Charter Changes to Include Police Chief Qualifications
Among the eight changes proposed by the Charter Review Committee to the City of San Angelo’s constitution are appointing the police chief, extending the length of terms for City Council members and limiting their service to eight consecutive years.
The Charter Review Committee will present its recommendations to the City Council on July 21. The Council will determine which of the proposals it will place on the Nov. 3 ballot for voters’ consideration.
Following a series of three town hall forums and an online survey, the committee made the following changes to the initial list of potential charter changes:
- It removed Section 27 related to the duration of the City Manager’s tenure. Committee chairman Trinidad Aguirre said citizens clearly communicated a lack of interest in requiring at least five of the City Council’s seven members to terminate the city manager.
“The public spoke and we listened,” Aguirre said. “That was particularly true of the idea to require a super-majority to terminate the city manager. We heard very little interest from the public in changing that.”
- It split two issues related to City Council terms.
One proposal would lengthen Council terms from two years to four years. Amending Section 8 of the charter would reduce the frequency of elections from yearly to every two years, saving the $25,000 to $35,000 expense of an annual election (and more if there’s a runoff), committee members said. It would also ensure Council members are well acclimated to their responsibilities before having to seek re-election.
The other proposal would limit Council service to eight consecutive years.
Currently, there are no term limits for Council members. Under the proposed change, former Council members could run again after a hiatus of at least one term and serve an additional eight straight years. Limiting service to eight years would both ensure continuity and an infusion of fresh perspectives, some committee members say.
- It split a proposal regarding the initiative and referendum process for approving an ordinance.
One proposal is a legal housekeeping matter that would bring Section 47 of San Angelo’s charter into compliance with state law.
The other would require at least a six-month waiting period to repeal or modify an ordinance that was approved by voters through the initiative and referendum process, unless otherwise approved by a super-majority vote of at least five City Council members.
San Angelo’s indoor public smoking ban is perhaps the best known ordinance approved through initiative and referendum.
“The process of conducting town hall meetings and surveying citizens proved very beneficial in helping the Charter Review Committee shape its recommendations,” Aguirre said.
The remaining four charter proposals involve:
- Updating and simplifying the qualifications in Section 9 of the charter for running for the City Council and for continued service. That includes being at least 18 years of age, being a resident of the city and of the district the member represents, not being a City employee or elected official, and complying with state laws regarding conflicts of interest. The charter does not, for instance, currently require that once Council members are elected that they continue to live in their district to continue to serve.
- Raising the mayor’s monthly pay from $50 to $350 and Council members’ pay from $41.67 to $300 per month. Committee members note Section 10 of the charter regarding Council compensation has not been updated since 1947 and that Council members spend an estimated 15-20 hours per week on City business.
- Allowing for special elections to fill vacancies on the City Council on uniform state election days not less than 30 days after the Council orders the election. The change to Section 14 would bring the charter into compliance with state election law.
- Moving from an elected to an appointed police chief. If approved, the city manager would appoint the police chief based upon stated qualifications and group interviews, as is the case with all other City department heads. The City Council would review the selection prior to it being finalized.
Committee members said the charter’s requirement in section 61 that police chief candidates live in the city of San Angelo greatly limits the pool of potential candidates and the opportunity to hire the best chief possible.
Further, they said the political campaigns and election every four years distracts the chief and his officers from focusing on crime reduction, short- and long-term management of the SAPD, financial administration and officer retention. Further, the political campaigns create divisions within the SAPD and the community, they added.
The city charter was drafted in 1915 when San Angelo was established as a home-rule city. The document provides a basic structure for our municipal government, outlining what it can and cannot do. As with the Texas and U.S. constitutions, it can be amended, but only with the approval of the City Council and then, ultimately, the voters. In the past 100 years, the city charter has been amended 12 times, most recently in 2007. Charter elections can be held no sooner than two years after the document was last changed.
The City Council in November appointed seven members to the Charter Review Committee to review the document for potential changes and updates. The committee members and the City Council member who appointed them are: