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Elections 2017: Denton boosts accountability in city charter

Denton voters signaled every way they could in Tuesday’s charter amendment election that they want to keep elected officials accountable.

In unofficial results Tuesday night, voters refused to stiffen the requirements to recall an elected official. Proposition B appeared headed to defeat by a wide margin. But voters overwhelmingly approved a suite of amendments that keep ethics on the front burner: Proposition D requires the City Council to adopt an ethics ordinance, Proposition C requires the hiring of an internal auditor, and Proposition A requires elected officials to live in the city.

And to make it all stick, voters approved Proposition E and paying the mayor and council members a stipend for the first time.

Results become official when the City Council canvasses the vote later this month. 

Denton voter Theron Palmer said he believes the stipend is another way to keep officials accountable.

“Now we can say, ‘We pay you,’” Palmer said.

Palmer was among the activists in the southern Denton neighborhoods of District 4 who got a recall petition on the ballot in 2015. Although then-council member Joey Hawkins survived the recall vote and finished his term, he did not run for re-election in 2016.

Palmer said that some people called the group’s grievances trivial, and that perception may have triggered the push to make it harder to recall an elected official. He knew many people were opposed to Proposition B, but those were the same people who worked with the recall effort and he wasn’t sure if opposition was widespread, he said.

Election results showed voters in most of the city’s precincts opposed Proposition B, not just those in District 4.

All five propositions were placed on the ballot after a 21-member charter amendment committee researched and debated the issues for several months earlier this year. The City Council appointed the committee with seven charges in all, but ethics reforms were the driver.

Previous efforts in the past two years to adopt an ethics ordinance have floundered. The charter amendment committee sent a separate memo to City Council members, telling them what an ethics ordinance should address.

Mayor Chris Watts said last week that work on an ethics ordinance would be placed on the City Council agenda as soon as possible, should voters approve Proposition D.

Proposition D passed with 87 percent of the vote.

Proposition C had a similar margin of support in making sure that the City Council hires an internal auditor. The executive-level post has been in the charter for more than 10 years, but previous councils allowed it to remain vacant. The current council is searching for a new auditor. Its first hire resigned abruptly after serving just eight months.

Denton voters also agreed, with a whopping 95 percent of the vote, that the city’s elected officials should live in Denton. Previously, the charter language made it possible for an official to simply maintain a home in Denton and reside in another city.  

Proposition E passed, but not by quite as wide a margin as the others. For the first time, Denton will pay its elected officials a stipend, but payments won’t begin until after the next election. The mayor will receive $1,000 per month and individual council members will receive $750 per month. Proposition E also limits how much the stipends can increase.

City Attorney Aaron Leal has said previously that no proposition was dependent on another. In other words, the charter will be changed where voters have approved and left alone where voters have opposed changes.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881.

DENTON CITY CHARTER AMENDMENTS

The following results from Election Day are unofficial.

Votes Percent
Proposition A: Shall Section 2.02 of the City Charter be amended to clarify that councilmember residency qualifications apply to the councilmember's domicile (principal residence), where the councilmember must have resided for at least one year prior to the election?
For 4,588 95.1%
Against 238 4.9%
Proposition B: Shall Section 4.13 of the City Charter be amended to increase the percentage of petitioners required to trigger a recall election from twenty-five percent (25%) to thirty-five percent (35%)?
For 1,937 40.2%
Against 2,880 59.8%
Proposition C: Shall Section 6.04 of the City Charter be amended to clarify that the internal city auditor shall be a permanent, full-time position and clarify the responsibilities?
For 4,075 84.9%
Against 725 15.1%
Proposition D: Shall Sections 14.04 and 14.05 of the City Charter be repealed and replaced with a provision requiring the adoption of an ethics ordinance by the city council in accordance with Texas law and adheres to certain minimum standards?
For 4,110 87%
Against 616 13%
Proposition E: Shall a section be added to the City Charter providing for councilmembers to receive an initial monthly stipend of seven hundred fifty dollars ($750.00) and the mayor to receive an initial monthly stipend of one thousand dollars ($1,000.00) during their respective terms of office and providing for restrictions on subsequent increases to the stipend amount?
For 2,699 56.9%
Against 2,042 43.1%