The City of Oklahoma City Charter Review Committee met Tuesday to discuss potential changes to the City Charter including new election dates and City Council travel expense approval. More significant items were not discussed during this meeting.
To begin the meeting Co-Chair and Ward 8 City Councilman Mark Stonecipher pointed out to the body that Oklahoma City rates highly in satisfaction of residents in part because the City’s charter is good. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” he said.
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The first item discussed was to change the name of our city elections.
Currently, we have a vote in even-numbered years for mayoral races and odd-numbered years for City Council races. Those votes are a “primary” vote in February and a “general” vote in April if needed. However, if candidates in the primary race receive 51% or more of the vote, there is no general election vote.
A change to the City Charter that has been suggested will simply change the names of the elections replacing “primary” with “general” and “general” with “runoff.” The intention is to disambiguate the purpose of each vote.
If this change is adopted the vote in February will be called a “General Election” and if a runoff is needed to secure the seat or seats in question, a “Runoff Election” will be held.
Sometimes the clarification is harder to explain than the ambiguity.
The Committee also discussed the possibility of changing the process of approving traveling expenses for City Council members.
Currently, those expenses are approved only by an affirmative vote of 6 members of the Council. The change considered by the Committee today would have that approval given by another person serving the city.
The suggestions for this responsibility were the City Manager, City Auditor, or the Mayor. Alternatively, there is a suggestion that each Councilor be given a budget for travel.
Largely the Committee found this to be an unneeded measure.
Stonecipher said that he prefers the current system as it has transparency and peer-review built in. Cooper agreed and went on to underscore the importance of these trips, saying that when he has traveled on Council business he has received a wealth of information to bring back to the City.
No single committee member spoke in support of this change, so I don’t suspect we’ll see it again.
There was a suggestion raised for changing the dates of municipal elections.
Currently, city elections take place in February and April, as mentioned earlier. The suggested change was to move the general municipal election to August and the runoff election to November so that the elections would coincide with statewide elections.
This was largely put down by committee members. Committee members thought this would open city politics to an unwanted partisan bent. Why that would happen was not explained apart from Kenneth Jordan, municipal counselor, saying that this move might result in party-line voting.
City elections are non-partisan. One does not run as a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Independent candidate for Mayor or City Councilor. Changing that was not discussed under this provision.
Still, members of the committee showed a non-partisan concern that somehow changing this would bring a partisan bias into city government – supposedly, not currently present – as well as invite voters who haven’t done enough research to vote.
God forbid more people vote, right?
There were a number of things previously discussed that didn’t come up today. But some of those things are things I think you, dear reader, might care about. Specifically, requirements for candidates.
Currently, the city charter requires being registered to vote in the City (for Mayor) or Ward (for City Councilor) for a period of three years in order to run for the seat representing that area.
The amendment discussed in past meetings and perhaps ready to move forward for approval would change that amount of time to one year.
So, get your registration changed now, all ye carpetbaggers. The city may be moving to allow your candidacy.
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