Members of the Orange City Council and the recently-formed Charter Change Committee tossed around ideas Tuesday to see if anything stuck, in preliminary efforts to see more future minority representation on the council.

The suggestion that seemed agreeable was to expand the council to four single-district seats and three at-large seats (two council seats and the mayor). The at-large seats would be determined by a majority vote while the single districts would have a plurality vote, meaning the candidate who gets the most votes would win. [The other option would be to have runoff of the top two vote-getters].

The concept is only in the thinking stage and will be discussed again by committee members at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 10 in the city council chambers, following a regular council session at 9 a.m.
Tuesday’s discussion marked the beginning of many meetings to come, but as Mayor Brown Claybar said, “We’ve got some time with this process.” 

Any changes approved by council for the May ballot, if passed by voters, would not take effect until the next election.

After the 2009 election (and annexation of Little Cypress a few years ago) the council had no African-American members for the first time in 40 years, committee member Henry Lowe, a retired locksmith, said Tuesday. 

The current council has four at-large seats plus the mayor. One position belongs to the panel’s only woman, Theresa Beauchamp, in office since 2004.

In addition to Lowe, discussing the issue Tuesday were committee members Benny Smith, educator; Raymond Young, area pastor; and Elgin Browning, emergency response coordinator for Invista. Also at the table were Councilwoman Beauchamp, Councilmen Jeff Holland and Bill Mello, and Mayor Claybar. Councilman Jimmy Simms, and committee member/former Orange Mayor Essie Bellfield were unable to attend.

Some such as Young were in favor of expanding the council, while Lowe and others only wanted to change the four existing seats to single-district positions.

Claybar brought up a concern about districts being drawn up before knowing the 2010 census numbers. Orange has a population of 19,494, according to the Texas Municipal League.

“We’re working under the assumption we have 19,000 residents, and we’ve had some annexations and we’ve had some hurricanes,” he said. “So we will have some hopefully accurate data in six months, and I don’t want to create one problem by trying to solve another.”

Young said the committee’s overall goal should be for everyone in the community to have proper representation.

“If you have a candidate that’s going to run for office,“ he said, “they’re voted on by the people of the district they live in, so if they live in that district it gives those citizens in that community the opportunity to get to know that candidate, and the opportunity to be able to see the sincerity of that candidate and if the candidate is qualified … That’s what our community needs.”

He continued, “When we vote for people now (the current system), they’re representing the city of Orange but they’re not representing a single district. A single-member system gives districts more of a voice.”

Claybar said Orange was “probably the most integrated community in the Golden Triangle,” with minorities living in every quadrant of the city. He suggested “resident” voting, where everyone votes on all candidates, but in order to run in a district one must live in that district.

“[This way] it requires all candidates to be interested in what goes on in the entire city,” he said.

Lowe added, “But if I have a problem – I want to be able to take it to my councilman.”

Claybar responded that problems were what the council’s annual neighborhood meetings were for. However, Lowe contended that some of those meetings just dealt with the same issues again and again.

“We want somebody whose feet we can hold to the fire,” Lowe said. [Under the present system] they were elected by the city. They weren’t elected by [voters of one district].”

Claybar replied, “Nobody can do anything by themselves on this council. If you want to be effective, you’d better be able to build a coalition because that’s the only way anything gets done.”

Beauchamp said she gets calls of concern from all areas of town, and has two secretaries who live in the Cove area who keep her informed of issues there. 

“The people need a voice,” Young said. “Someone who says, ‘I’m listening. I care.’ Even if nothing gets done, the people will know that at least an effort was made to make it happen.”

According to the present city charter, amendments can be made two ways – by a council submission to the ballot at the council’s pleasure; or by council submission supported by a petition signed by “a number of qualified voters of the municipality equal to at least 5 percent of the number of qualified voters of the municipality.”

Orange City Manger Shawn Oubre said Tuesday the number of signed petitioners would have to be around 560, changing an earlier figure mentioned last week when the Charter Change Committee was formed.