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Charter committee talks single-member districts, council term limits

The Mission Charter Review Committee proposed almost 40 amendments to the city constitution, which citizens will vote on in the May 4 election. Even though council term limits and single-member districts were not among the proposed amendments for the 2024 ballot, the CRC discussed the possibility of including them in the next charter review process. 

At the Jan. 8 Mission City Council workshop, committee member J.D. Villarreal inquired about changing Mission from an at-large electoral system to single-member districts and adding term limits for the council members. The committee discussed both items further at their Jan. 12 meeting. 

If Mission were to move to a single-member electoral district, the city would need to be divided into separate geographically defined voting districts. With this method, each district would have its own elected official representing them on the city council. 

But drawing up districts takes time. 

“You have to have, it’s a legal element called one person, one vote,” City Attorney Victor Flores explained. “You do have to have a person come in and do a study based off of the most recent census information. And it rarely is geographic; rarely is it a clear cut line.” 

One person, one vote ensures equal representation in voting. Mayor Norie Gonzalez Garza explained further. 

“It’s based on the number of votes per area,” she said. “You don’t want an area to have 6,000 votes and the other to have 15,000 votes. So it’s all based on the numbers.” 

Flores said the city would need to have more workshops to comb through the data. Although the process could take as quickly as two months to complete if the city had all the statistics, realistically, it would take Mission anywhere from four to six months. 

As for the sitting council members, the mayor said they expressed Mission was not ready for single-member districts and felt the topic needed further discussion. 

“My personal thoughts on single-member districts is that we probably do have the population but not necessarily the area that would need a single-member district. So I’m not convinced yet that that’s something that we should pursue,” Gonzalez Garza said in a Progress Times interview. “But I’m willing to explore it and talk about it definitely.”

Ultimately, the committee decided to hold off on adding the item to the city charter until the 2026 amendment process, which is the soonest the state law would allow Mission to amend the charter again. Texas cities can only amend their charters every two years. 

The CRC also discussed term limits for council members at their Jan. 12 meeting. 

One of the proposed amendments for the 2024 ballot is limiting the mayor to three consecutive and nonconsecutive terms, which the Mission mayor vocalized support for last year. Committee member J.D. Villarreal said he has spoken to other community members who also favored mayoral term limits. But they were unsure if council term limits would be advantageous. 

Depending on how the review committee drafts the charter, they could make the limits retroactive for sitting members or set a start date for the future. They could also implement separate term limits for council members and the mayor or limit the total number of terms that one person can serve, both on the council and as mayor. The city attorney explained that the latter option is “a little strict.”

Gonzalez Garza, who served as a Mission council member for 15 years, has stated she did not wish to implement term limits for the council members. She believes creating term limits for the mayor will be enough. 

“I think that limiting the mayor’s term will essentially cut down on the years that the council will serve as council because they’ll step up and run for mayor,” she said. “So for me, it was either, ‘I’m going to run for mayor or I’m out.’ Because I was not going to run for council again. That was my decision.” 

Committee member and former Mission City Manager Julio Cerda expressed concern for city staff transitioning to a new team of council members more often. But he did clarify that just because the charter sets term limits, it does not mean a council member is guaranteed reelection for every term. Even with term limits, constituents still must vote on the mayor and council positions in a city election. 

With the review committee wanting to exercise caution, they postponed adding council term limits to the charter until the next amendment process, suggesting the planning begin in 2025. 

“I don’t want to rush anything because I don’t want to be caught in a situation where I cannot explain why we did what we did,” Villarreal said. “But if we do have an opportunity in two years, then we continue the process, continue the study, the evaluation of it, and make sure that indeed we want to go that route. And if not, then well, we did our due diligence.”

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