Mission discusses city charter

This article originally appeared in the Friday July 19, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

Mayor Armando O’caña is attempting to fulfill a campaign promise that would implement term limits for the mayoral position in Mission.

During a workshop held at the city hall on Tues. July 16, the mayor, city manager and council members discussed a couple of potential changes to the Mission organizational chart as well as the city charter.

City of Mission logoO’caña promised to create term limits for the mayor’s position when he ran for mayor in 2018. This week he suggested a two-term mayoral limit as one of the changes to the city charter, which has not been amended since 2007.

“The term limit will only be for the mayor, not for the city council,” O’caña said. “This is based on the philosophy in the United States constitution – the United States constitution gives the president of the United States to have two terms with four years each. If it’s good enough for America, if should be good for the city of Mission. That’s my belief.”

O’caña modeled another potential city charter change after the constitution as well. Citing that the population determines the amount of representatives from your area at the House of Representatives, he believes that because the U.S. Census is happening in 2020 and the Mission population is increasing, there should be more commissioners representing residents.

This charter change would include the addition of two more city commissioners, bringing the council from four to six in total. O’caña suggested that four of the council members be from designated geographical districts within Mission, while the two other members be elected from anywhere in the city or “at-large.”

“When the city charter was created, there were less than 2,000 people [living in the city],” O’caña said. “Now we have 88,000 or more, and if the census comes through we may have 100,000.”

By making this change, passing or denying items during city council meetings would require a majority of four council members or three council members and the mayor voting in favor.

“That creates checks and balances, which are the basic fundamentals of our constitution for the United States of America,” O’caña said. “I think that in 10, 20 years from now, it would create a lot of stability.”

He noted that when he discusses these possibilities with the public at local coffee shops, they have varying opinions on how council members should be elected in terms of geographic districts or at-large Mission residents. He said cities with council members who are all determined by single-member districts have problems, as well as cities where all council members are at-large.
“The cities that are more functional have a balance,” O’caña said.

O’caña also brought up the compensation of the mayor and council members, though he stated that this potential change to the charter was not his idea. Typically the mayor is paid $100 per month and council members receive $25 per month.

“I know that the compensation was stated back in the 1930’s when the charter was first created,” O’caña said. “Back then, $25 was maybe considered a lot of money for a council person, but it’s not today.”

The mayor and council member Jessica Ortega-Ochoa are not paid currently, as they are both employed with the La Joya Independent School District (state and school district employees who are elected to office in Mission do not receive compensation). Ortega-Ochoa noted that this is not always the practice in other municipalities.

“Other municipalities on the west side, even their state employees still do get paid for whatever reason, and that’s neither here nor there,” Ortega-Ochoa said. “I think that out of all the cities, my colleagues here are the least [compensated], and we’re a bigger city.”

Ortega-Ochoa said that in other cities, some commissioners are compensated anywhere from $50 to $100 per meeting.

“I would like to see, in fairness, what that would constitute,” Ortega-Ochoa said. “And then some of them even go by hours. I think that all of us put in a lot of time.”

She added that sometimes she sees council member Ruben Plata’s check for his service, and said she would be surprised if it covered the gas it takes to drive to the city hall.

Mayor Pro-Tem Norie Gonzalez Garza did not agree with all the potential changes that would be made to the charter, particularly in regards to compensation and the mayoral term limit.

“I’m not in favor of changing the charter in terms of compensation,” Gonzalez Garza said. “I don’t think any of us do it for the $25 or $100. And I certainly wouldn’t want to go into a per meeting thing, because that would be very, very expensive. And an hourly thing would probably not work as well.”

Gonzalez Garza said she was in favor of adding additional council members to the charter and let the city residents decide who they want to elect from where they want to elect.

“The term limits thing, I could go either way,” Gonzalez Garza said, adding that our state governor or representatives do not have term limits. “I don’t think it’s something that’s absolutely necessary. It’s only the president of the United States.”

Gonzalez Garza, who is also a board member for Amigos Del Valle, said that because they are federally funded over there, board members must submit their social security numbers and their credit reports are checked. She suggested that if Mission wanted to go the presidential route, maybe they should also consider submitting personal financial statements.

O’caña said that in his research of city charter amendments, it is harder to get them passed by the public as more amendments are included. Gonzalez Garza said that because it has not been amended since 2007, there are probably several amendments and language changes to the charter that need to be amended.

While council did not come to a complete consensus during the workshop, they decided to bring the potential charter changes to executive session at next week’s city council meeting. The organizational chart will be presented and voted on at the meeting as well.

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