The Norman City Council will discuss nearly a dozen recommendations from the Charter Review Commission, including whether the city attorney should be a council-appointed position, during Tuesday’s meeting.
For months, the commission has been meeting on several proposed changes to the City Charter; earlier this year, it pivoted from its list of issues to include recall petitions, The Transcript previously reported. Changes to the charter must be voter approved.
Commission chair Bob “Midway” Thompson will present the recommendations during a special council session at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. The council appoints commission members who then vote on items to be added to a list for council review.
The agenda lists each recommendation and the vote cast by the commission. An 8-3 recommendation to place the city attorney under the direct authority of the council showed some disagreement about the proposed change. The city attorney is hired by and fired by the city manager under the current charter’s ordinances.
Commissioners approve of an increase to the mayor and city councilors’ monthly stipend, provided an outside commission determines the amount and reevaluates it every three years. Councilors and the mayor receive $50 a month, but the commission recommended an annual stipend between $5,400 to $7,800 per year beginning in 2022, The Transcript has reported.
After recent recall petitions that clashed with election dates and terms of office, the commission also voted unanimously to amend both the terms of city councilors and the date the term begins. It also recommended that the charter reflect state law with regard to the procedures of recall petitions and ensure the city clerk has enough time to review signatures.
Terms would be extended from two to three years for councilors beginning in 2023 and 2024 for odd and even numbered wards, respectively. The current three-year term for mayor would remain unchanged.
While the present term of office begins on the first Tuesday of July — the start of the fiscal year — the commission proposes that it begin the first Tuesday following the certification of election results in 2023 and 2024. Municipal elections are held in February, with an April runoff if applicable.
The window for recall petition to be filed is also more specific, based on the commission’s recommendations. No councilor can be recalled within six months of the date they take office, according to the charter.
Petitions must be filed after six months, but the recommendation would add that the petition filing window would end six months before the councilor’s current term expires. Some councilors faced a recall election less than a month before their regularly-scheduled elections in February 2021, The Transcript reported.
A proposal to the commission suggested it consider allowing a vacating councilor to appoint their replacement instead of leaving it up to council to appoint or call for an election. The commission voted unanimously to instead clarify the charter’s language on two points: to ensure the council can continue to appoint or call for a special election, and to “eliminate confusion about appointments being for the remainder of the term.”
The commission also tackled the matter of utility rate increases. Utilities cannot be increased without voter approval, according to the charter.
Commissioners agreed unanimously that a utility rate study be performed annually for a proposed rate increase to voters for one or more utilities during the municipal election. It would also provide for “situations where an additional rate increase may be needed to meet an unexpected need,” the agenda reads.
Nine members serve on the Norman Regional Hospital Authority Board, but the commission agreed that number should be increased to 11, provided that nine members are Norman residents.
A contentious issue will likely be settled by the council if it chooses to let voters approve any tax increment finance district in excess of $5 million. The University North Park TIF drew criticism from some Norman residents, who signed an initiative petition to overturn its agreement with the city in 2020. The petition failed in court. The commission reached a deadlock with a 5-5 vote on the proposal.
A charter amendment could also clear up some confusion as to qualifications for municipal elections. The charter reads that anyone who is registered to vote in Norman for the previous six months and resides in the ward on the day of filing for that office is qualified. Commissioners propose the charter read that candidates reside in the ward six months before office is required, with provisions for where ward boundaries have changed.