Hundreds of people roamed the grounds of Texas Woman's University on Thursday night, gathering Halloween candy and playing carnival games. But inside the school's Blagg-Huey Library, about 30 came to talk about propositions that would alter state and local constitutions.
The Denton League of Women Voters held a panel discussion during its October meeting about what would be on the Nov. 7 ballot. The election will decide the fate of seven state constitutional amendments and five Denton city charter amendments.
Gloria Cox and Tom Miles, both political science professors, led the discussion and asked attendees for their thoughts on the issues.
"When people go to this much trouble to come to a meeting about home-rule charter amendments, you can tell they are serious observers of the political world," Cox said.
Most of the panel was dedicated to unpacking the ballot's local propositions. The city's charter review committee, comprising 21 residents appointed by Denton City Council members, began meeting in December. The council approved five of the committee's seven recommendations in June.
"Most of these amendments came forward as a result of an experience the city had," Cox said.
The first proposition, called Proposition A, clarifies language that requires council members to live in the city, and their respective district, for one year before running for office. According to the proposition's explanation on the city website, it's meant to "address concerns of multiple addresses or residences."
Miles called it the "Mark Burroughs" amendment, a reference to the former mayor who owned a local law firm and a home in Denton, but had a primary residence in Dallas.
"There was kind of a question about how connected he was to the community, which caused some concern with voters," Miles said. "If you know anything about Mark Burroughs, I used to see him every morning at Jupiter House. He seems pretty connected to the community."
"It's hard to imagine, though, being an effective spokesperson for the city if they don't live here," Cox countered.
Proposition B would bump up the number of signatures needed for a recall election from 25 percent of a district's eligible voters to 35 percent. The proposition comes on the heels of two recent recall elections of former council members Kevin Roden and Joey Hawkins, which both failed.
"I think local governments that have the initiatives and the recalls and referendums are about as close to direct democracy that we're going to experience," said Cox, who lived in Hawkins' district. "I didn't sign the petition, but I felt that it was a way we could express our views."
Miles said he didn't think raising the threshold of signatures would have stopped any of the previous recalls.
"I think this proposition is one that looks good on paper, but I'm not sure if it has any teeth," he said.
Proposition C would require the City Council to appoint a full-time, permanent internal city auditor. Former city auditor Craig Hametner abruptly resigned earlier this week.
Most of the attendees seemed in favor of the proposition but said the language on the ballot was too vague.
Proposition D would allow the City Council to repeal two sections of the city charter and replace them with a tougher ethics ordinance. The city has run into problems with its current ethics policy and some residents said it created a lack of trust in city officials.
"As it is, we don't have much," Cox said.
While most attendees believed there should be a clearer set of ethics, some pointed out the measure wasn't clear on what that new ordinance would look like.
"I think the city council should provide us with the wording of their ethics code, whatever it is, first," League of Women Voters member Linnie McAdams said. "We need to know what that is before we throw out anything."
Proposition E would bring stipends for City Council members and the mayor, who currently don't get paid. The mayor would get $1,000 per month, while council members would receive $750 monthly.
Attendees seemed to agree that those elected officials should get paid but also brought up questions of accountability and whether or not the amount was sufficient. One attendee called the proposition "Pandora's box."
The panel also briefly discussed state constitutional amendment proposals. Most seemed to think the majority of the proposals only benefitted special interest groups and didn't believe constitutional amendments were necessary.
Though the library was full of engaged voters, those at the meeting represented a small portion of the electorate. During the last constitutional election in 2015, only about 8.9 percent of Denton County's eligible voters participated.
Early voting begins Monday and runs until Friday, Nov. 3. Election Day is set for Tuesday, Nov. 7. For more information, go to www.votedenton.com.
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.
FEATURED PHOTO: Gloria Cox and Tom Miles, both political science professors at the University of North Texas, discuss Denton city charter amendment propositions during a League of Women Voters meeting Thursday at Blagg-Huey Library on the campus of Texas Woman's University. The propositions, along with proposed amendments to the state constitution, will appear on the November election ballot.