- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—A majority of the El Paso City Council supported most of the proposals for amendments to the city charter that a citizens committee recommended and that voters will decide in a special Nov. 3 election.

City representatives voted Monday to introduce an ordinance calling for a special election, and they will vote before or on Aug. 18 on the final wording and items to be placed on the ballot.

Although the ballot items are not final, the city representatives voted for or against the propositions that the Ad-Hoc Charter Advisory Committee developed.

The propositions that the council supported included asking voters to consider giving the city representatives and the mayor a $10,000 pay raise, and allowing council to reduce the number of regular meetings they hold each year.

Should voters approve the proposition, city representatives would receive $39,000 a year and the mayor $55,000 a year.

“(If) voters approve the salary increase, the proposed increase would go into effect in fiscal year 2017,” Laura Cruz-Acosta, assistant to the city manager, said after Monday’s meeting.

Mayor Oscar Leeser, who currently donates his city salary, said, “I oppose this item.” He said the current council reflects a good representation of the community, countering arguments that increasing salaries will attract a wider field of candidates.

City Reps. Carl Robinson and Lily Limón voted against placing the salary proposition on the ballot.

In a separated action, the council also voted against a motion by Limón to add a ballot item asking voters whether they want to bring back a strong-mayor form of government.

“This (council-manager) is a successful form of government,” city Rep. Cortney Niland said.

Limón said she was keeping a campaign promise to constituents to bring this before the council, and that it was not meant as a reflection on City Manager Tommy Gonzalez’s work. Gonzalez recently finished his first year as city manager. He has a five-year contract with the city.

The city has operated under a council-city manager form of government since 2004. Limón’s proposal failed on a 6-2 vote; she and Robinson voted to place the question on the ballot.

Limón’s motion was not one of the recommendations that the Ad-Hoc Charter Advisory Committee considered recommending to the City Council.

City Council members also nixed the committee’s proposal to ask voters whether the city should return to having its elections in May instead of in November. In 2013, the voters narrowly decided to make the switch to November.

As a result of the change to November, the terms of all the city district representatives will be shortened by six months. Full four-year terms will resume after the November 2018 election, according to the city charter.

Three members of the ad-hoc committee, former Mayor Joe Wardy, Assistant District Attorney James Montoya and David Thackston, owner/president of Marketing PROS, addressed the council about different aspects of the committee’s recommendations. Richard Dayoub, president and CEO of the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce, also made a recommendation.

Dayoub said the City Council needs to do a good job of educating the public about the work that being a city representative entails, and how the job is not limited to what goes on at regular and special council meetings.

City Rep. Dr. Michiel Noe said, “To say that we work part time, it’s a joke.”

Limón and Robinson voted against including on the ballot the proposition for reduced City Council meetings.

Thackston and Montoya said the committee urged against holding elections in November, which originally was intended as a way to help increase voter turnout, because of the possibility that city elections would get less attention during presidential, Congressional and statewide elections.

Thackston said election judges are reluctant to help with elections if there is a possibility of a runoff in December, which falls around the holiday period. He also said having the city’s non-partisan elections mixed in with partisan elections could be confusing to voters.

In the end, the council on Monday approved going forward with nine of the committee’s 10 recommended propositions. The rest of the measures range from cleaning up language to changing the city’s fiscal year to Oct. 1-Sept. 30. Currently it runs from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31.

Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at 546-6140.

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(c)2015 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)

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