The Weslaco City Commission is considering amending the city charter to add term limits for elected officials, as well as to redefine the makeup of the governing body to once again include at-large seats.
The proposed charter amendments were just one of several topics discussed during a workshop between the commission and the city’s department heads Saturday morning at the Mayor Joe V. Sanchez Public Library.
The workshop also included discussions regarding the city’s master plan, funding the construction of a new police department, central fire station and library, and the city’s potential takeover of solid waste collection.
The commission also briefly touched on how to position the city to best accommodate tax limitations which will go into effect next fiscal year thanks to a 3.5% revenue cap approved by state legislators last spring.
In regard to the proposed charter amendments, however, the commission mulled over the idea of instituting term limits while simultaneously increasing their lengths from three years to four — the maximum term length allowed under state law.
The idea of limiting the length of time an elected official can serve has been bandied about in recent months by some of the commissioners, as well as political candidates, including most recently, Adrian Farias, who last summer won a special election to fill the District 4 seat.
“It was a good time to have that discussion,” Weslaco City Manager Mike Perez said after the workshop.
Mayor David Suarez has also thrown his support behind the idea of term limits, saying that having a finite amount of time to sit in public office will help elected officials pursue their goals. “The elected official has a time period to accomplish what they set their goals or visions to do,” Suarez said.
“That’s enough time for him or her to do that and then go ahead and allow somebody else to continue and serve and … continue the city forward,” he said.
The commission also pondered proposing another change to the governing body — this time in how the body is structured. Under the new idea, some of the commission’s six single member seats would revert back to at-large positions.
Currently, the commission is made up of six distinct districts and the mayor, who is the sole officer elected at-large. Only voters of a particular district can vote for that district’s commissioner candidates.
Weslaco became a single district city in 2007, when voters approved that configuration over an entirely at-large commission.
The new proposal involves reverting two of the six seats to at-large positions that can be voted on by the entirety of the city’s electorate. The remaining four seats would remain single district seats whose district lines would need to be redrawn to include the territories from the defunct districts.
City Attorney Juan Gonzalez, who was on hand to help the commission brainstorm the proposals Saturday morning, cautioned that the at-large reversion may open the city to litigation. He cited a similar change which had been overturned in Pasadena, Texas, after a court found the reversion to be unconstitutional.
“I would also warn you that single-member districts are favored by the courts,” Gonzalez said. “(Changing) from single member to at-large is very closely scrutinized,” he said.
The courts determined that the Pasadena change violated portions of the Voting Rights Act because reverting to at-large districts disenfranchised minority voters. With the majority of Weslaco’s population being Latino, the same conflict may not arise, the commissioners speculated.
The commission will continue to deliberate on the proposed charter amendments, and directed Gonzalez to present them with sample language at a later date. If they decide to move forward with the idea, the commission will be required to call a special election to put the matter directly to voters.