By Rich Heiland
Free Press Publications, LLC
For Walker County News Today
AT LAST, ITends. This is the last installment in our look at 32 Huntsville City Charter Amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot.
First, some observations.
First, why publish all this information? A City Charter is important. It is the legal guidance for how a city – its elected and appointed leaders and line staff – function. It spells out public rights in relation to the city. It is not, and should not be, designed for a specific City Council though past actions of several councils can be instructive in its amending. It is not just a document stuffed in a closet. It is important and citizens should take care in its amending.
Second,I drove by the Walker County Annex this morning – the first day of early voting. The line was out the door, down the sidewalk to the street. That shows two things, to me. The first is good turnout, but the second is the massive ballot is going to slow down voting. That makes early voting all the more critical. My fear is that people who wait until late in the day to vote Nov. 6 may find long lines and give up. This is not the election to pass on!
Early voting for Huntsville and Walker County runs through November 2, 2018, Monday thru Friday, 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Exceptions are two 12-hour days, Tuesday Oct. 23 and Tuesday, Oct. 30 when the Annex will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. There also will be one weekend for early voting – Saturday oct. 27 and Sunday Oct. 28 from 1 until 5 p.m. Remember to have a valid picture ID. You are permitted to bring “cheat sheets” into the polling place with you if you want to make notes from these articles or bring a sample ballot. You are NOT permitted to wear any candidate tee-shirts, hats or buttons!
Finally, a thought in response to questions about voting recommendations. We have said earlier we are neither endorsing or opposing amendments. Almost all constitute “house keeping” cleanups and changes long overdue because of changes either in state law or finance procedures. Some allow more public openness. Two we did cite as problematic depending on your view of public notice and involvement in spending were Propositions T and CC.
Now, for a look at the last few amendments:
Shall Article XIV, Section 14.14 of the City Charter relating to Limitations on Contracts be amended to read as follows?
“From the date of any general election until the canvassing of said election, the Council shall not create, make or enter into any contract in excess of $50,000.”
Explanation: The current section is long-winded and puts a limit of $1,000 on contracts. The intent is to preclude a majority of Council which may include defeated members from pushing through contracts an incoming new Council may not approve of. That intent remains. However the high amount does allow for response to emergencies while keeping the door shut on large contracts.
Shall Article XIV, Section14.18 of the City Charter that relates to reading entire reports made by the state of Texas or any of its agencies on the city be deleted?
Explanation: This is an archaic section that has not been followed by years. The original intent was for a home rule city to publicly acknowledge receipt of a report from the state – regardless of content – by reading it. Reality is this could take hours. Anything from the State requiring any kind of Council action sooner or later would appear as an agenda item.
Shall Article XIV, Section 14.19 of the City Charter be amended to include a final sentence to read as follows?
“Any elected official of the City convicted in any court of a crime involving moral turpitude shall forfeit his or her office.”
Explanation: This adds specific legal language to define a crime that can lead to loss of office that is lacking in the current charter. “Moral turpitude” does have a legal definition that includes some crimes and excludes others.
Rich Heiland, former publisher of the Huntsville Item and owner of Free Press publications, LLC, a reporting/writing firm working with media, has been a reporter, editor and publisher at several daily papers. He was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning team. He taught journalism at Western Illinois University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 936-293-0293.