In a previous blog post, we discussed the process by which cities can adopt an initial city Charter. But what happens after adoption? Are cities stuck with the same Charter provisions forever? Changed circumstances due to population growth, the needs of the citizens, or even just the passage of time can necessitate the need to modify a City’s Charter. Fortunately, Texas Home-rule cities do have the power to amend their Charters so long as the amendment doesn’t conflict with state law or the constitution. There are of course a number of formalities that must be followed to effectuate such a change. Much like an original Charter adoption, Charter amendments can only be accomplished through a majority vote at an election.
Who initiates the process?
Under the Texas Local Government Code, a city council can choose to order an election on proposed Charter amendments of their own accord. Alternatively, qualified voters of the city can force a city council to order an election on a proposed amendment by submitting a petition signed by the lesser of, five percent (5%) of the qualified voters; or 20,000 qualified voters.
What is the process?
Many cities go through a lengthy review process before actually proposing Charter amendments, often by way of a Charter review committee and several open meetings. State law does not necessarily require a Charter review committee be implemented in order to amend a City Charter. However, many City Charters do contain such a requirement. Cities with such a provision would be required to take that extra step. Further, if a city is adopting an entirely new Charter, as opposed to adopting amendments, a Charter commission must be elected. Under state law, proposed Charter amendments cannot contain more than one subject. Cities are required to prepare ballots in such a way that a voter may approve or disapprove any one or more amendment without having to approve or disapprove all of the proposed amendments.
When to order the election?
There are a few puzzle pieces to put together when determining the timing of an election for proposed Charter amendments. The Texas constitution prevents cities from altering, amending, or repealing their Charters more often than every two years. The Texas Attorney General has opined that in this context a year is a full 365 days (or 366 days in the case of a leap year). This distinction does make a difference since the date of a uniform election does vary from year to year. For example, if a Charter was adopted or amended in May of 2022, amendments could not be placed on the ballot in May of 2024. The May uniform election date falls on the first Saturday in May. For 2022, the uniform election date was May 7, 2022. In 2024, the uniform election date will be May 4, 2024; which is slightly less than the required two-year timeframe.
Assuming this two-year criteria is met, a city council must order a Charter amendment election by ordinance to be held on the first authorized election date prescribed by the Election code or on the earlier of the date of the next municipal general election or presidential general election. The ordinance ordering the election must be passed at least 30 days prior to such election date. Following the ordinance ordering the election, cities must then publish notice of a proposed Charter amendment election in a newspaper of general circulation that is published in the city. The notice must include a substantial copy of the proposed amendment, include an estimate of anticipated fiscal impact to the city, and be published on the same day in each of two successive weeks, with the first publication occurring at least 15 days before the election.
When do approved amendments go into effect?
If an amendment is passed by the qualified voters, city council must then enter an order declaring that the Charter amendment is adopted. The city then sends a certified copy to the secretary of state evidencing that the Charter amendment was adopted by the voters. The city secretary then records the adopted Charter amendment and keeps a record of the Charter and all amendments.
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 commercial and business litigation practice can be found here.