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Steps to Adopting a Home-Rule City Charter in Texas

In Texas, there are primarily two types of cities, general law and home rule. There are some slight variations among different types of general-law cities, but broadly speaking, the major differences are found between general-law and home-rule cities. The fundamental difference between how these types of cities operate comes down to their authority to take action.

Under the Texas Constitution, home-rule cities are granted the power of local self-government. A home-rule city has much broader powers than a general-law city. Essentially, general law cities look to state law to see what they can do, while home-rule cities look to state law to see what they are prevented from doing. So long as an action is permitted by the City’s charter, a home-rule city can basically take any action that is not preempted by state law.

By default, Texas cities start out as general law cities. Once a general law city reaches a population of 5,000 inhabitants or more, the city can hold an election to adopt a home-rule city charter. A home-rule  charter is the fundamental law of a home-rule city. It can be thought of as the city’s constitution, but it of course it cannot conflict with state law or the Texas Constitution.

So how does a city adopt a home-rule charter? The first step to adopting an initial home-rule charter is the selection of a charter commission to draft the proposed charter. The charter commission my be selected in a number of ways, including appointment by the mayor, or the charter commission members may be selected by the city council. The charter commission must consist of at least 15 members, but if the commission is made up of more than 15 members, it may not have more than one member for each 3,000 inhabitants of the city.

Once the charter commission is selected, the commission prepares a charter in a way so that each subject may be voted on separately by the citizens. The actual preparation of the city charter is typically an involved process requiring multiple meetings of the charter commission. Once the proposed charter is prepared, city council submits the charter to the qualified voters for approval.

City council must also order the city clerk or city secretary to mail a copy of the proposed charter to each registered voter of the city at least 31 days before the date of the charter election. The charter election must then be held on the first authorized uniform election date that occurs at least 40 days after the date the charter commission completes its work. If the qualified voters approve the home-rule charter at the election, then city council enters an order in the records of the city declaring that the charter is adopted.

The city must then certify to the secretary of state an authenticated copy of the charter under the city’s seal showing the approval of the charter by the city’s voters. The city secretary must also record the adopted charter in the city secretary’s office. The charter must either be recorded on microfilm or be recorded in a book kept for that purpose. Once a city charter is adopted, it may be amended but it cannot be altered, amended or repealed more often than every two years.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.

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