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Mission postpones adding utility board to charter

For months, the City of Mission and a committee of Missionites have been working to draft an updated version of the city charter that the constituents will vote on in the May 4 election.   

City Attorney Victor Flores, who said he acts as a scribe to the Charter Review Committee, presented the first draft of the proposed charter revisions earlier this month at a Mission City Council workshop. Among the 39 proposed amendments was the creation of a Mission Public Utilities Board. 

However, at the Jan. 22 Mission City Council meeting, the attorney said the committee decided to table the amendment, meaning the city would not include it in the 2024 charter election. Instead, they would wait until the charter amendment process for the 2026 election, abiding by the state law that says cities can only amend their charter every two years. 

“They wanted to give the city more time to prepare and plan adequately,” Flores said.  

At the Jan. 12 Charter Review Committee meeting, the members discussed the amendment more in-depth. 

Mayor Norie Gonzalez Garza, who sits on the committee alongside six community members, said she wanted to proceed cautiously with the public utilities board. In a Progress Times interview, she explained that she was unfamiliar with how public utility boards worked and was worried about moving through the process too hastily. 

At the meeting, committee member and former Mission City Manager Julio Cerda suggested tabling the item after hearing the mayor’s concerns.  

“That way we don’t rush into it,” Cerda said. “Because I know there’s a lot to discuss with PUB because it’s a totally separate entity that is still tied to the same pinnacle. But nevertheless, it’s something that’s outside of what we’re used to.” 

Currently, Mission City Council regulates public utilities. But an earlier charter amendment draft had the Mission PUB serve the utilities department and city council as a consulting and advisory board. It would comprise a five-person board that the council would appoint for two-year terms. The public utilities board members would designate a manager that Mission City Council would have to approve. 

However, Cerda reminded the committee there are two different types of PUBs Mission could model theirs after — one resembling their original plan, and one resembling McAllen’s elected public utility commission. 

“I would call [McAllen] a utility district of its own; that’s why they have their own powers,” Cerda said. “But the mayor and council do not manage their budget. So that’s why we have to have a little longer discussion.” 

McAllen Public Utility is the only elected water utility board in Texas; it is not a department within the city, McAllen’s Director of Communications Xochitl Mora explained. She said the MPU and the mayor and council have a close connection in their working relationship, but ultimately, McAllen Public Utility operates on its own.  

“The city commission will take action to adopt MPU’s budget whenever there is a rate and, or fee increase proposal, as those increases are effectuated by adoption of a city ordinance,” Mora said in an email. “The city commission does not manage MPU’s budget. Budget expenditures are approved by the [MPU] general manager and, in some instances, by the public utility board of trustees.” 

To be on the ballot for the 2024 election, the proposed PUB amendment for Mission’s city charter would need to be finalized before the Feb. 16 deadline. However, the Charter Review Committee wanted more time to discuss how Mission’s public utility board would operate, so they postponed the amendment. 

Based on the timeline staff provided, city council plans to vote to order the special charter election at the Feb. 12 Mission City Council meeting. 

As for the Charter Review Committee, the Mission mayor said they will likely not meet until after the May 4 election.

“For the most part, I think our charter committee is done for now because we’re going to focus on ordinances for the next few months,” Gonzalez Garza said. “So [the ordinance] committee will continue and the charter committee will kind of take a break for now, until we’re ready for them to come back.”

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