Residents of the City of Oklahoma City will have nine propositions for changes to the city charter on their ballots for the upcoming November 3 election.
The charter functions as the constitution for the city. However, it’s not called a constitution because the State of Oklahoma – through a charter – grants cities and towns the ability to govern themselves within bounds the state sets.
Every municipal charter is submitted to the State for approval after being drafted or amended.
The propositions for charter changes that pass will be submitted to the governor for approval.
The most likely proposition to be controversial, if any are at all, is the proposal to allow members of the city council or the mayor to provide information to the city manager about a City employee’s job performance.
That allows an encroachment by elected officials on the direct management of city government by the city manager which is what the current charter calls for. The city manager is hired by the city council to run operations of the city and manage its various departments.
Oklahoma City’s government is called a “weak mayor” or mayor-manager system where the mayor and city council members are not allowed to have any input into an employee’s evaluation or hiring/firing.
If council members and the mayor are allowed to submit city employee information to the city manager for their evaluation, that could open the elected officials to charges of cronyism and political hiring/firing in the future. There is no reasonable cause for such accusations at present.
Some of the other proposed amendments simplify the language of the charter or make the language more understandable.
One example is in Proposition 1 which changes language of what the different elections are called to align more closely with what they achieve.
What is now called the “primary” election in February for city elected positions would be renamed the “general” election. All elected seats in city government are non-partisan and so calling the first election the “primary” is sometimes confusing to voters who are used to the primary being a partisan matter before the general election.
What is now called the “general” election would be called the “runoff” election which better describes the election’s purpose. The second election is to decide between the top two candidates when none receive over 50% of the vote for their position in the first election. It is what most people would think of as a runoff election.
Residency requirements for running for mayor or a city council seat have been a confusing situation involving the courts. Effectively, requirements now are to only be a resident of Oklahoma City for six months before filing.
The new proposition would require one year of being a registered voter in the city limits for the year immediately preceding filing for office.
The Charter Review Committee was formed by Mayor David Holt to consider issues with the current charter and propose changes.
Members of the committee who met from February through June were:
- Ward 8 Councilman Mark K. Stonecipher (co-chair)
- Sharon Voorhees (co-chair)
- Leslie Batchelor
- Miriam Campos
- Ward 2 Councilperson James Cooper
- Stan Evans
- Rachel Pappy
The following is information provided by the City’s Public Information Office about each proposition:
The first proposed Charter amendment would make minor changes regarding elections for Mayor and Council:
- The name of the February “primary” election would become the “general” election, and April’s “general” election would become the “runoff” election.
- Councilmembers and the Mayor would take office four weeks after the “runoff” (currently “general”) election, instead of one week.
- Requirements for election notices and candidacy declarations would be changed to comply with current state law, which already supersedes the Charter’s outdated language.
This proposed amendment would affect qualifications to run for Mayor or a City Council seat:
- The description of the requirements will be reformatted to make it easier to read.
- Candidates would be required to live in Oklahoma City for at least 1 year before filing for office. The Charter currently requires at least 3 years of residency, which federal courts have ruled is too long and unreasonably restricts the right to run for office. For years, City elections have therefore relied on a state law to set the residency requirement at 6 months. This amendment would set a new Charter requirement of 1 year, which is compatible with state law and is frequently upheld in federal court.
- Candidates would be required to be a registered voter in Oklahoma City for the year immediately preceding a formal declaration of candidacy.
- Candidates for Council seats would also be required to be registered to vote in the Ward in which they are running for at least one year before a formal declaration of candidacy.
If approved, this proposition will amend Article II, Section 6 of the Charter.
This proposition would extend the time period from 15 days to 30 days to call a special election, or to appoint a temporary Mayor, if the office is vacant. It makes the time period consistent with the same requirement for vacant Council seats. Appointment of a temporary Mayor can only occur if the vacancy is in the last year of the term.
If approved, this proposition will amend Article II, Section 10 of the Charter.
Proposition 4 would amend an outdated requirement for Council meetings to match the current practice of setting meeting schedules by ordinance. The Council currently meets every other Tuesday.
If approved, this proposition will amend Article II, Section 11 of the Charter.
This proposed amendment would allow the Mayor or a Councilmember to provide information to the City Manager about a City employee’s job performance. The information would be required to be based on direct personal knowledge, or a signed, written statement from a resident.
The Charter prohibits the Mayor or Councilmembers from giving orders to City Manager subordinates, and from directing or requesting appointment or removal of a City employee. The narrow proposed change in Proposition 5 would explicitly provide a way for the Mayor and Councilmembers to provide positive or negative feedback without violating the Charter.
If approved, this proposition will amend Article IV, Section 4 of the Charter.
This would clarify who is in the City’s Division of Public Affairs, which is under the direct control of the City Council.
If approved, this proposition will amend Article IV, Section 6 of the Charter.
This would change the term “Councilman” to “Councilmember” or “Councilor” where the Charter refers to Council representatives.
This proposal would amend the section of the Charter granting powers to the City government, and reformat it into five subsections for easier reading. It would also add the word “welfare” to the list of powers for enacting and enforcing ordinances “to protect health, safety, welfare, life or property.”
If approved, this proposition will amend Article I, Section 3 of the Charter.
This proposed amendment would re-word a section heading and more clearly state its apparent, original intent to prevent improper transactions related to certain businesses, and City franchise agreements.
It would prevent City employees and officers from accepting things of value on terms unavailable to the general public from privately-owned transportation businesses and utilities. It would allow for franchises and contracts to be conditioned upon free service for City employees and officers while engaged in official duties.
If approved, this proposition will amend Article IV, Section 12 of the Charter.
The deadline for registering to vote for the Nov. 3 election is rapidly approaching on Oct. 9.
To check your voter status, go to the Oklahoma State Election Board’s online voter portal at ok.gov/elections/ovp.
If you need to register to vote you may use the portal’s voter registration wizard to complete, print, and sign it before mailing it to your county election board.
Last Updated September 29, 2020, 11:51 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor