Charter debate gets heated

Published 10:21 am Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Failing to get unanimous city council support, the Austin Charter Commission will likely put proposed changes to the city charter on the ballot during next year’s general election, a commission member said Tuesday.

The commission and the council met Monday evening to make sure they were on the same page before going forward with a vote sometime early next year, but council members John Martin and Marian Clennon said they opposed some or all parts of the revised charter.

Sheriff Terese Amazi, a commission member, said it was frustrating to hear about opposition now after roughly two years of work. She said Martin and Clennon didn’t come to charter commission meetings during that time.

“We’ve been at this for a year and a half,” Amazi said Tuesday. “Where were they?”

During the meeting Monday, Amazi asked Martin if he wanted his city jail back — a reference to an archaic part of the charter and a reason for the proposed changes, the sheriff said.

But Martin responded with criticisms regarding the jail and justice center being built downtown, setting off a round of discussion.

“He has no idea what he’s even opposing,” Amazi said Tuesday.

Martin said Monday night that he’s been opposed to any changes for three years — a point he said he made known.

“I said it back then,” the councilman said. “We should not be messing with this document.”

Martin said the charter was created by the city’s “forefathers,” and their work should be respected. He said parts of the charter that may be outdated are simply covered by a state or federal law.

“It’s a waste of time and disrespectful,” Martin said of the proposed changes.

However, Amazi said she is worried about leaving the charter as is.

“This thing is archaic , and it needs to get changed,” she said. “(Council) is going to get sued” because they aren’t following the outdated charter.

Amazi said the commission doesn’t want to go through a special election because of the costs, meaning the proposed changes would be on the ballot during November’s general election.

The charter commission will meet next month to further discuss this issue.