When Cedar Park voters go to the polls for city elections this spring, they likely will be asked to vote on more than 20 amendments to the city charter, or rule book, in addition to marking ballots for city council candidates.
Voters will be asked to vote “for” or “against” a variety of updates to city governance, ranging from eligibility rules for running for city council to defining public safety functions of the city.
The city council got recommendations for the amendments from a Charter Review Committee in July and had planned to put them to a vote in November. But the vote was delayed to save money and to hopefully generate more interest in the amendments on the regular city election date on May 5.
“It would have been the only item for the ballot in November and the council decided it would be a better return on investment for the cost of having the election to include the proposed amendments on the May ballot,” said Place 5 Council Member Heather Jefts.
“We also felt we would have better engagement from the voters in May,” Jefts added.
Additionally, city council seats for Mayor and council Places 2, 4, and 6 are up for election on May 5.
At their Dec. 7 meeting, council members discussed a public hearing schedule to meet a Feb. 16 deadline to get the charter amendments on the May ballot. Two public hearings are planned in January where comments will be accepted on the draft amendments.
Place 2 Council Member Corbin Van Arsdale said the council should keep the voters in mind when approving the wording of the proposed changes to the city charter.
“The good thing about having the election in May is that many of the voters who turn out are already interested in city matters,” he said. “But with 20 to 30 amendments for them to consider, we should try to make the wording as clear as possible.”
The charter is usually amended to keep up with technical changes in the law or in city codes. The 15-member Charter Review Committee, which consists of citizens and staff, worked through the first half of 2016 to list and prioritize charter updates. The council winnowed the number of recommended changes from 37 down to the current total of 21.
One of the proposed amendments is to remove gender specific language from the charter.
“It’s a little archaic for our charter to refer to ‘he’ and ‘him,” Van Arsdale said.
“We are bringing the city charter into the 21st century by making it gender neutral,” Jefts said.
Other proposed amendments under council consideration include a restriction on allowing appointed council members to run for election. Jefts said candidates for council can have an unfair advantage if they can call themselves “incumbents” because they were appointed to an unexpired term.
In past updates to the charter, some out-of-date information about the city was overlooked. Changing the description of public safety functions to include the fire department as well as the police department was one of the items recommended by the review committee.
The final wording for the charter election propositions will not be set until the council completes the public hearings this month.