Waxahachie isn't likely to change mayoral selection system anytime soon

Chris Roark
Waxahachie Daily Light

For now the process of selecting the mayor of Waxahachie and the number of city council seats will remain the same.

During a work session Thursday the council discussed creating a charter review commission to examine possible changes to the city charter.

The two specific charter items council members brought up to consider changing was the mayoral selection process and increasing the number of council seats from five to seven.

But the majority of the council favored leaving those, and the charter as a whole, alone for now. Mayor Doug Barnes said the charter was created in 1971 and has served the community well.

The council discussed the current process for appointing a mayor and what the alternative would be. In Waxahachie, the council appoints the mayor amongst the council members instead of being elected like many cities do.

Councilwoman Melissa Olson said she understands why the city chooses the mayor the way it does but said she thinks residents should have the choice on whether to change the system.

“This isn’t something I’ve heard from one or two people,” Olson said. “This is from a lot of people who are like, ‘We need to vote for our mayor.’ And I don’t disagree. I see the benefits of the way we do it, but for me it’s a more democratic system.”

The majority of the council favored keeping the mayor selection process the same.

“Once you are on the city council you have a better understanding of what’s taking place,” Barnes said, adding that it would be possible to elect someone who has no city experience.

Mayor Pro Tem Billie Wallace said she used to feel like the mayor should be elected, but since joining the council she sees the benefits of the current system.

She pointed to the recent Texas Senate District 10 race in which she said fewer than 5 percent decided on the outcome of the race.

“That concerns me,” she said.

Councilman David Hill said electing a mayor wouldn’t increase voter participation.

“The same ones who vote for city council are the same ones who will vote for mayor,” Hill said. “We’re not going to get another group of people come out to vote for mayor.”

Councilman Travis Smith said he would be interested in exploring the idea of increasing the number of council members.

“I don’t know the pros and cons of going up to seven from five,” Smith said. “I think it’s something we should discuss as a council.”

Barnes cautioned against increasing the number of council members.

“There are times when we can’t find people who want to run for the council,” Barnes said. “So if you add two new members are we running the risk of not having an election, not having anybody who is willing to run?”

He added that council members are elected at-large to represent everyone.

“So why change it?” he said.

City Attorney Terry Welch provided background on the city charter and the process to change it if the council decides to do that in the future. Welch said the charter doesn’t mention the process for which it can be changed only that it can be amended.

Welch said most home rule cities will appoint a charter review commission by the council.

He said the process in most cities is the city staff will go through the charter to see what items, if any, should be looked at. He said if the council agrees it would then charge the commission of exploring those items deeper. The commission would make a recommendation on if any amendment should change.

The council would then decide whether or not to place any changes on a charter election ballot and then call an election.

Welch said the city had previously considered November of 2022 for having a charter election if it decided to have one.

Public comments

The council also decided Thursday to limit the amount of time residents can speak during the public comment portion of council meetings to five minutes.

“Obviously we want people to come to city council and make a statement,” Barnes said. “Sometimes individuals go seven, eight, nine or 10 minutes.”

Smith said it’s a common practice among other city councils and that enforcing the time limit is typically at the discretion of the mayor.

The original proposal was to limit the comments to three minutes, but Olson requested bumping it up to five minutes. She said she agreed a limit is needed to respect the time of those in the audience and the city staff.