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Sugar Land City Council discusses proposed charter changes

By S. Barot
For The Star

Sugar Land LogoThe Sugar Land City Council held a workshop on Tuesday to discuss proposed amendments to the city charter that could make citizens’ opportunities to petition in protest a more difficult task.

The main proposed amendment is a change to the number of petition signatures required for recall petitions for a referendum.

Currently, the charter requires signatures required for a referendum is 30 percent of the number of voters who voted in the last election.

A proposed change would require 15 percent of ALL registered voters in the city, before the city would be legally required to consider it.

“Our recent referendum petition required 2,032 signatures,” said city activist Diana Miller. “This proposed change would require 7,086 signatures – and that’s more people than voted in the last election, so it would be much harder to petition.”

Miller, who was also instrumental in obtaining signatures to petition the Newland Communities Tract 5 Development, took to Facebook group “Sugar Land Votes” to voice her concerns. Her belief is that city officials are increasing the roadblocks to the public’s right to petition.

She also added that in the City of Houston, the amount of signatures needed for petitions is 10 percent of the number of voters who voted in the Mayoral Election. In most other cities, it is a percentage of the last election, not the entire registered voting population.

Despite delays from the Planning & Zoning Commission regarding the public hearing to consider the elimination of recent updates to the City’s Development Code and the addition of a provision limiting multi-family in planned development districts to no more than 200 units, Miller said her group plans to submit the petition.

The amendments were recommended by the 2013 Charter Commission, which according to City documents, was created from Resolution 13-45 to review the operations of city government to determine whether revisions in the Charter should be made.

Though not directly related to the general public, the proposed Interference with Administration section (2.10) is also baffling to her group. It states that “the city council and it’s members shall deal with city officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the city manager solely through the city manager, and neither the council nor its members shall give orders to any such officer or employee, either publicly or privately.”

In other words, the proposed change states that to communicate with city employees, council members must go through the city manager’s office. It is still unclear The Star why this particular change has been proposed.

“I don’t know why they feel the need to change that, or what is driving that change,” Miller said. “It concerns me.”

Another agenda item is the approval of the release of 214 acres of the City’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) upon the property’s acceptance to Richmond’s ETJ. The property is o the south of FM 2759 and west of Crabb River Road. According to city documents, staff recognized that it is difficult to plan for land uses on the ETJ properties south of FM 2759, because properties have unusual shapes and sizes. A number of property owners in the area have expressed interest in being part of Richmond’s ETJ.

City Spokesman Doug Adolph said the charter commission made eight recommendations. In October, City Council suggested moving forward with the following six.

• Changing council terms from two years to three years

• City council members will communicate through the city manager’s office rather than directly to employees regarding day to day operations of the city

• Equalizing the petition signature requirements to 15 percent as well as basing percentage on registered voters for all categories for consistency

• Updating the severability clause

• Clarifying definitions of council member(s) and city council

• Clarifying that city council has power to regulate all city owned property

1 Comment for “Sugar Land City Council discusses proposed charter changes”

  1. r.taylor

    Kudo’s to Subhrata for getting this right. It’s refreshing to see a “journalist” who gives the facts, to the point, unparsed and unbiased. Truth of the matter is that the city is now attempting to change the number of signers on a referendum petition from 30% of the “number of people who voted in the last election” to 15% of the “total number of registered voters”. The justification for this is to “make it easier” to do the math. Can anyone say “5th grade” boys and girls? Smoke and mirrors comes to mind here as 15% sounds like a much smaller number than 30%. Should be a no brainer for most folks at first glance right? However, 15% of 47,000 is much greater than 30% of 6,700. (47,000 being total number of registered voters and 6700 being the approximate number of individuals voting in the last election) To all thinking voters, this is a very obvious attempt to marginalize the ability of the citizens to petition for change in anything having to do with the city govt. Interestingly enough, this comes on the heels of a petition that was recently signed by the citizens to stop the city’s attempts to make changes to the code to allow for the ultimate “urbanization” of the city of Sugar Land, which has built a its reputation as a suburban city. In short, the changes city made would have allowed Newland Properties, or any other developer to build any number of apartments, anywhere the Planning and Zoning (unelected committee) recommended, and the city then rubber stamped. Open records requests show campaign contributions to several councilmembers from the developers, so does this surprise anyone? Does Houston come to mind here? Thanks Subhrata. Keep up the good work.

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