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McAllen mulls term limits, moving City Commission elections to Nov.

The McAllen City Commission might place several proposed charter amendments, including term limits for the mayor and commissioners, on the May ballot.

Other proposed charter amendments would strengthen the mayor’s veto power and move city elections from May to November.

“The way I view it is: It’s an opportunity for voters to speak,” said City Commissioner Joaquin “J.J.” Zamora.

Zamora, City Commissioner Victor “Seby” Haddad and City Commissioner Omar Quintanilla worked with the City Attorney’s Office to review the charter. They discussed the proposed charter amendments Monday afternoon during a workshop at City Hall. Many proposed amend

ments would clean up the charter, which voters adopted in 1927.

Some provisions no longer comply with state law. Others became outdated when voters approved amendments.

For example, the section on “qualifications of mayor and commissioners” reads:

“The mayor and each of the four (4) commissioners shall be at least twenty-five (25) years of age; shall be a citizen of the United States of America and a qualified voter of the State of Texas, and shall have resided for at least two (2) years next preceding the election within the corporate limits of McAllen; and shall be a bona fide owner of real estate within the corporate limits of McAllen.”

McAllen actually has six commissioners, thanks to a charter amendment approved in 2000. State law sets the minimum age at 21 years old. And the requirement to own property is unconstitutional.

Problems with pronouns caught the committee’s attention too.

“There’s also references to elected officials and property owners that presume they’re male, which are outdated,” said Assistant City Attorney Austin W. Stevenson. “So we just removed references to gender altogether.”

Along with minor edits and updates, the proposed charter amendments could include several major changes.

Term Limits

During the discussion on Monday afternoon, a majority of the City Commission appeared to support term limits.

The committee recommended a charter amendment that would limit mayors and commissioners to three four-year terms.

That proposal came with caveats: Terms served as commissioner wouldn’t count against terms served as mayor. Partial terms wouldn’t count toward the limit either.

Zamora, who represents northwest McAllen, said constituents mentioned term limits to him.

“I think we’re trying to be proactive, knowing that our constituents, at least in my district, have raised the issue,” Zamora said. “But maybe not enough gumption or political prowess to bring it to a petition before the city government.”

Placing term limits on the ballot would allow voters to decide the issue.

“Can I ask you a question: What was their objection?” said Mayor Jim Darling. Maybe it was Othal Brand? The only McAllen mayor to have served multiple terms in recent times.

Zamora said that former Mayor Othal Brand Sr., who served for two decades, wasn’t the issue.

“No. It was just generally,” Zamora said. “And I think, really, more at a national level.”

Few members of the City Commission serve more than three terms anyway, Darling said, cautioning the proposed charter amendment may not address those concerns.

“In the 110 years of the city, we’ve only had one mayor over two terms — two terms, not even three terms,” Darling said. “So I don’t know if there’s any urgency to do that.”

Some voters had similar goals when the City Commission switched from atlarge representation to single-member districts.

“The reason we went to single-member districts, supposedly, was the incumbent had at least a perceived advantage because they got elected for more than two terms pretty regularly,” Darling said. “And so that’s why we went to single-member districts. And that actually turned out even worse than before.”

Defeating an incumbent in a district, Darling said, turned out to be more difficult than defeating an incumbent in an at-large election.

“So, if you think it’s because the voters want it or that it’s been a particular problem, that was addressed at one time,” Darling said. “It didn’t solve the problem.”

If voters feel McAllen needs term limits, they could petition the city to place a charter amendment on the ballot, Darling said.

In 2012, though, a police union circulated a petition for term limits, which was signed by thousands of voters. The city hired an Austin-based attorney to review the petition and concluded they hadn’t met the threshold.

The City Commission also discussed moving elections from May, when many cities and school districts hold nonpartisan elections, to November, when partisan elections for state and national offices draw more voters.

“People are used to voting in November,” said City Commissioner Tania Ramirez. “And we would get more turnout.”

Zamora said he’s concerned that local candidates would be forced to compete for attention with a slew of state and national candidates.

“It’s just an alphabet soup of names,” Zamora said, referring to the November ballot.

Haddad suggested the City Commission review data on turnout before making a decision.

“I think moving it to Nov ember is one of the issues that we can look at with data. We can look at turnout data from May and turnout data from November — and see if we see an actual discrepancy where we can gain voter turnout, right? Because that’s a big plus to move it,” Haddad said.

Mixing partisan and nonpartisan elections, however, may cause problems.

“The city races in May do stay isolated with city issues, nonpartisan issues, focused on McAllen campaigns,” Haddad said.

Darling, who isn’t running for re-election after serving two terms, also suggested a proposed charter amendment to strengthen the mayor’s veto.

While the mayor holds the power to veto ordinances passed by the City Commission, the charter allows the City Commission to override the veto with four votes.

That required a supermajority when McAllen had four commissioners. With six commissioners, the requirement became a simple majority — essentially neutering the mayor’s veto power.

The City Commission may take action on the charter amendments at the next meeting.

“The city races in May do stay isolated with city issues, nonpartisan issues, focused on McAllen campaigns,” Haddad said.

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