Mission’s charter review committee released the first draft of amendments to the city charter. City Attorney Victor Flores presented the proposed changes at the Jan. 8 Mission City Council workshop. However, the larger community still has the opportunity to provide feedback on the document that defines the powers and procedures of their local government.
Before Mission can implement any changes to the charter, residents must vote to approve each item in a charter election. The city plans to have all the items on the ballot for the May 2024 election.
The City of Mission has not fully updated its charter since the 1980s, and leadership felt the document was overdue for revisions. In October, the mayor and council appointed five community members to the newly formed charter review committee to comb the records and suggest changes. The committee includes Lety Garcia, Julio Cerda, Kevin Michael Sanchez, Hector Ramirez, Jose G. Vargas and J.D. Villarreal.
Since their appointment, the committee members had four in-depth meetings before the first draft reading at the January workshop. But the city must finalize all proposed amendments before Feb. 16 — the deadline to order a special election.
“We have an initial draft that the charter review committee has kind of blessed at this point. But it’s not to say that anything there is concrete, that it’s going to happen or that anything can’t be included after today,” Flores said at the workshop. “So this is kind of an opportunity for us to present this information, present the recommendations, give a good orientation. And then over the next two weeks, continue to work on this, tweak it a little bit more to have a good, solid presentation at the next city council meeting, which will be Jan. 22.”
The city attorney presented 39 proposed amendments to the mayor and council. While many changes pertained to language clarification and removing sections with outdated practices, there were a handful of larger-scale alterations.
One of the more significant proposed changes would be adding mayoral term limits. In June 2023, Mayor Norie Gonzalez Garza and the council discussed limiting the mayor to a three-term period after it became a recurring request from the Mission community. The proposed amendment specifies three consecutive and nonconsecutive terms.
“It has been something that I’ve thought about because most cities have a term limit, the bigger ones. And so I agree that it was a good idea,” the mayor said in a June Progress Times interview.
Another significant charter change regards vacancies on the city council. If a council member has to vacate their seat before serving 12 months, the remaining council members will vote to appoint someone to fill the position without a city election. The amendment makes the charter consistent with state law and “[saves] the city the expense of having to conduct a special election,” the city attorney said.
The charter review committee also proposed a new article that creates a Mission Public Utilities Board. The PUB would be composed of five people appointed by the city council for two-year terms, with a manager appointed by PUB members and confirmed by the city council. The PUB would serve the utilities department and city council as a consulting and advisory board.
“Just given the steps that the city’s going through to expand, the complexity and the use of its utility resources, a lot of cities do have a separate public utilities board,” Flores said. “It would work on its own budget but it would still be presented through the city manager by city council.”
City management suggested changing a prerequisite for municipal court — removing the requirement that judges live in the city of Mission. Councilwoman Jessica Ortega questioned the proposed amendment, stating the practice has always been to have the judges be qualified Mission voters. However, the mayor said the amendment would allow for more options.
The review committee also proposed adding requirements for mayor and council candidates. If voters approve the section 5.03 amendment, future candidates must:
- Submit a $500 filing fee or a signed petition in compliance with regulations from the secretary of state
- Be a qualified voter in Mission
- Reside continuously in city limits for six months preceding the election date
- Vacate their position of employment, if they are city employees, after filing for city council
Among the recommendations is the procedure for the passage of ordinances. Currently, section 3.11 of the charter requires the city to publish all new ordinances in the Progress Times. However, Flores said management proposed removing the requirement and clarifying Mission will always comply with state law for the passages of ordinances. As stated in Texas local government code chapter 52.
At the workshop, charter review committee member J.D. Villarreal said he would like to discuss adding single-member districts for council members to the charter.
“I bring it up because the most recent election we had drew candidates from northeast and southeast. And historically, the council has been composed of membership of individuals that reside either northwest or northeast — mostly northeast. So the idea of a single member district added to the charter could be a worthy thought,” Villarreal said. “And, in addition to that, if we’re going to address that issue, perhaps we should address a limitation to how long a council person can serve, so it coincides with the limitation that we are proposing for the mayor.”
Councilwoman Ortega agreed it was a valid discussion point.
“About four years ago, we brought that up and so we’ll see where we are at with that now,” she said.
The charter review committee will meet once before the Jan. 22 city council meeting — when they will present a second draft of amendments.
“I think at this point, it would be best to…give the council and the public time to synthesize all these recommendations,” the city attorney said. “I’ll make myself available. I can get with [City Secretary Anna Carrillo], we can both meet with whoever wants to meet with us about any questions about the proposed changes, or any that haven’t been included that they would like to see included.”
Texas law states that cities can only have charter elections every two years. Any amendments the voters approve in the May 2024 election will be in place until at least 2026.
UPDATE: This article has been updated to include J.D. Villarreal in the listed members of the charter review committee.