Donna charter amendment election draws questions

Voters in Donna will decide on three proposed changes to the city charter in the upcoming May 4 election. And while Propositions A and B are fairly straightforward — asking voters to consider extending the term lengths of the mayor, commissioners and the municipal judge from three years to four — questions lingered about what, specifically, city leaders are hoping to change with the passage of Prop C.

According to a sample ballot, Prop C reads: “The removal from the city of Donna charter of unconstitutional provisions and provisions superceded (sic) by statute.” However, information regarding which sections or portions of the charter the city hopes to remove remained unavailable until last Friday — just three days prior to the start of early voting.

Posted on the city’s website under the city secretary’s page, voters can now find a new document entitled “Public Notice Proposition C.” The document lists a line-by-line illustration of the portions of the charter city leaders deem out of date.

In all, there are nine proposed deletions, the majority which would remove elections provisions no longer in sync with state law.

One proposed change would bring the charter more in line with the requirements of the Texas Open Meetings Act, while another would remove a provision that allowed the city to withhold payment of claims or debts to people or businesses who are delinquent in their taxes.

Another proposed change would remove language regarding the ability for litigation to be filed against the city, a change that reflects the city’s sovereign immunity.

The city commission convened a charter review committee during a Feb. 4 special meeting. The committee met once to discuss the proposed changes, City Secretary Laura Balderrama said.

Just two weeks later, on Feb. 19, the city commission voted to order a charter amendment special election.

However, when pressed for details about what changes would be made to the city charter upon the passage of Prop C, city leaders could not cite specifics as recently as last Tuesday’s commission meeting.

Just after the meeting adjourned, Donna City Manager Carlos Yerena referred elections questions to the city attorney.

“Whatever is unconstitutional, or contrary to statutes — for example, the election stuff. We have to go by the election code, uniform election dates and that stuff — that, we take out,” City Attorney Javier Villalobos said after the meeting.

When asked for a list of the proposed changes in Prop C, Villalobos responded he was still looking into the matter. “Actually, there’s some studying that I need to do on some of the issues, too,” he said.

“What’s very clear, (that’s) definitely out,” Villalobos said, referring to unnamed portions of the charter that are no longer viable under current state law. “Some of the stuff that’s not, I’ll take a look at, but that’s what it is,” he said.

Prop A

This proposition would extend the terms of the mayor and commissioners from three years to four — the maximum allowable under state law. The city cites cost savings as the reason for this proposition.

State law also mandates that municipal governments whose members serve three or four-year terms follow a particular set of rules, some of which pertain to the proposed changes in Prop C, outlined below.

Prop B

This proposition would extend the term of the municipal judge from three years to four. Like Prop A, city leaders are proposing this to help save municipal funds.

Prop C

Municipal governments whose elected officials serve three or four-year terms cannot appoint replacements to fill vacancies. Thus, part of Prop C would remove this provision in the city charter.

Other proposed elections-related changes would remove outdated language regarding the filings of candidates, the canvassing of elections and the declaration of winners.

Too, it would remove reference of appointing a person to fill a vacancy left by a recall election.

Finally, Article IV, Sec. 2 would be removed in its entirety. This section describes the selection of commissioners through an election by plurality, wherein the candidate with the most votes wins.

Pluralities differ from majorities, wherein a candidate would need more than 50% of the votes to win.

In regards to city meetings, Prop C would also remove language which allows the commission to hold non-public meetings for the purpose of appointments. Under the Texas Open Meetings Act, such non-public meetings are not allowed.

Lastly, Prop C would remove Article X, Sec. 11 in its entirety.

This section allows the city to withhold payment to individuals or businesses that are delinquent in their taxes. However, tax-levying entities already have a means to recoup delinquent taxes through the imposition of tax liens.

Early voting began Monday, April 22 and will continue through Tuesday, April 30. Polls will remain open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. throughout early voting, with the exception of Sunday, April 28, when polls will be closed.

The polls will likewise remain open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Saturday, May 4. Voters may cast their ballots at Amigos Del Valle, 1408 Silver Ave. in Donna.