• November 23, 2014

Recall questions illustrate need for city charter review by Killeen council

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Posted: Sunday, August 5, 2012 12:00 pm

The Killeen City Council is preparing to undertake a review of the city's charter — and the time is right to do so.

It's been seven years since the city last revised its governing document. State law allows municipalities of at least 2,500 residents to review their charters every two years.

Several areas will be up for discussion, but the main focus likely will be on council members' terms and revising the charter's recall language.

Increasing council members' terms in office from two years to three was a subject of discussion during the last charter review, but ultimately it failed to gain enough support to go before voters.

Switching to three-year terms would have some benefits. Newly elected members would have more time to become knowledgeable about the workings of the city and gain insight into local issues. A longer term also would remove the need for council members to be in campaign mode after only 18 months in office.

But with the change, a council member or mayor would be term-limited after two terms in office, instead of the current three, as required by state election law.

State law also would require a runoff election if the leading vote-getter fails to receive more than 50 percent of the vote. Currently, district and mayoral candidates can be elected with a plurality of the vote. Of course, each required runoff would be an added expense to the city.

Changing the charter's language regarding recall elections likely will receive more consideration, in the wake of last year's successful recall that removed five council members from office.

During the course of the recall process, several questions arose, including how petition signatures were gathered and who was eligible to sign the petition.

One discrepancy was the fact that all registered voters were allowed to sign the recall petition for council members representing specific districts, even though the petition signers didn't all live in those districts. Yet, when the recall election was held, voters had to live in a district to vote on the recall of their respective representatives.

Part of the confusion stemmed from a switch to single-member districts after the 2005 charter review — a change that has produced mixed results and could be up for reconsideration by the current council.

Another topic likely to generate discussion is the threshold for petition signatures needed to authorize a recall election. The current charter calls for signatures equal in number to 51 percent of the people who voted in the last election in which four council members were elected. Unfortunately, that number can vary widely with voter turnout, as well as the number of contested races.

City officials likely will recommend the charter tie the signature requirement to the number of registered voters in the city — a more stable figure that is likely to rise slightly as the city's population increases. Copperas Cove made such a change in its 2010, following its own recall election in 2007.

The council is right to examine these and other potential adjustments to the charter now, since any proposed changes likely will go before the voters next May. If the council chooses to form a 15- to 20-member charter committee to review potential changes, as the mayor has proposed — it could be a protracted process.

But anything worth doing is worth doing right.

And the city's voters deserve no less.

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