After seven hours of special city council meetings filled with information, debates, vitriol and split votes, the Stafford City Council hammered out the proposed changes to the city charter for voters to consider in the Nov. 6 election, including major changes for the positions of mayor and the city council.
Every five years the Stafford City Charter is reviewed and the last review was 2012. The Home Rules Commission of volunteers spent months pouring over the city charter to address the needs of the growing city. The volunteer commission made their recommendations to the Stafford City Council, which then held special sessions to address the proposed changes and the issues for the ballot on the special election.
The result is that Stafford voters will face a ballot containing 13 amendments, half the alphabet, of proposals A through M, to determine the direction of the city.
For example, the current mayor, Leonard Scarcella, has been in office since, 1969 and is the second longest tenured mayor in the country. He has been successfully running every two years. The amendment questions will consider term limits, compensation for public servants such as the mayor and council, and mayoral duties.
For example, Stafford has a strong mayor system of government where the mayor serves as the city’s administrator or chief executive officer. The mayor told the council he is currently paid $900 a month with a car allowance and insurance and the council receives $250 a month.
Worried that a vague compensation amendment could be “used as a political reward or a weapon,” the mayor and two other council members voted against the proposed inclusion but the question made it onto the ballot despite the 4-3 vote.
“If the council does not like who gets elected mayor, four can say the mayor will get $1 a year and no other compensation. If they like the mayor, they can say mayor gets $5,000 a month and unlimited expenses. There are some nights, I can imagine what that amendment would suggest,” Scarcella said during one of the special meetings to discuss the proposal.
City Attorney Arthur Pertile noted that is why the amendment specifies a fair market value so an egregiously low number or outrageously high number would not be allowed.
“This is not the Stafford it used to be 30 to 50 years ago, not even 10 years ago. This is evolution. If we are going to do what we say in our preamble to attract an able and conscientious person, we won’t attract if we don’t offer some type of salary,” said Councilmember A.J. Honore.
The city attorney noted that a living wage is $50,000 to $60,000.
They ballot also proposes changing the charter to stagger the terms of the council seats and allow them to be chosen at-large and by positions. It also calls for term limits.
“We already have term limits; it’s called elections. In my opinion, some good elected officials termed out who could have served more. I believe strongly the people have the right to vote and to select the individual. A good example is that the seven of us have many topics we don’t agree on but the same electoral body elected us. The business world couldn’t function if you had to train and retrain every 16 years,” said council member Cecil Willis.
Honore said the amendments open the system to everyone and the current system favors incumbents.
Mayor Pro Tem Virginia Rosas said she attended all the meetings of the commission making the recommendations on charter changes.
“This is not just random; they gave it careful consideration and the commission said maybe this is something the people should consider,” noted Rosas.
The amendments also address potential issues that have troubled the Stafford politicians in the past, such as city issues allegedly not receiving timely attention and a split council creating a defacto walking quorum and filling the agenda with pet projects.
Since the special election occurs on the same day as the Nov. 6 election, the 13 amendments will appear at the bottom of the ballot and some voters may not even address them.
In addition, about 159 Stafford residents live in Harris County. While they can vote in the general election in their county, they can only vote on the proposed Stafford changes by going to Stafford.
The 13 amendment questions can be found on the Stafford City website embedded in a massive post that includes multiple languages in addition to the English version. It can also be found at https://fortbendvoterinfo.com/fort-bend-county-political-races.