Council closer to amending charter

Published 12:27 pm Saturday, April 24, 2010

Changes to the city’s governing document got a step closer to City Council approval Friday afternoon, but a few proposals still seem destined for November’s ballot.

John Martin and Marian Clennon — the two council members who have stood in the way of the unanimous vote required by council to change the charter — met with charter commission members John Lutz and Woody Vereide in what became a detailed, chapter-by-chapter analysis of the proposed new charter.

By the end, Martin and Clennon agreed that they would support a host of structural changes to the document, which would include the removal of gender-specific phrasing, archaic definitions and areas that do not comply with state law.

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To see the revised charter, go to Austin’s homepage

However, the council members want to see bigger substantive areas — the mayor’s voting privilege, as well as the term limits for mayor and council member at-large — go to the election.

The commission has proposed giving the mayor a vote in case of council ties — currently, the mayor can never vote — and bumping the two aforementioned term limits from two years to four, but Clennon and Martin said they wouldn’t sign off on these changes.

This leaves a simple ultimatum for the whole charter commission, which is scheduled to next meet on May 3: If you want council to support charter changes, you’ll have to leave certain items for the ballot.

Lutz, who was able to get Clennon and Martin to the table after a a previous attempt by another commission member failed, said this ultimatum isn’t such a bad thing.

“I really want to iron out the language piece,” Lutz said, referring to the more structural changes.

If that happens, it makes the commission’s task of going on the ballot much simpler. Before, the commission would have been faced with putting the whole charter up for a vote — a difficult thing to do in the form of a ballot question. But, if many of the structural details get worked out, the ballot items will be a lot more straightforward, asking citizens simply if they want to change a voting privilege and term limits. The items would most likely be separate questions, which would also make them easier to digest.

Clennon and Martin both said they came away from Friday’s meeting satisfied.

“This is what we’ve been asking for,” Clennon said of the chance to thoroughly review the proposed changes. “I’m glad we actually did go through it.”

Martin, who has previously said he didn’t like the idea of “messing” with the charter, said he would be OK with approving the structural changes, just not the substantive issues that he wants to see on the ballot.

The councilman added that if the commission sticks with what he saw Friday, he and Clennon would vote ‘yes.’

“Oh, it’s a huge step forward. What I have read, I’m very OK with,” Martin said. “It should fly.”