Orange’s Charter Change Committee voted Tuesday to recommend city council place five amendments on the May ballot that could determine number of members, adoption of single-member districts, number of years per seat, elimination of term limits and quorum procedure.

It was the committee’s third meeting after citizens voiced complaints several months ago about the makeup of the council. 

Council is expected to approve the draft for ballot placement in a future meeting. 

If passed by voters, no changes would take place until 2011 elections. 

Although the 2010 census will “officially” be over by April 1, Mayor Brown Claybar said he doubted city officials would get all the numbers by election time.

“Uncle Sam’s never that quick,” said committee member Henry Lowe.

Amendment 1 would expand the number of council members from four to six, plus the mayor’s seat. 

Amendment 2 would create four single-member districts and three at-large positions. Districts will be established and determined by a demographer and redrawn after each federal census, if required by state and federal regulations. Amendment 2 additionally reads, “Each candidate for city council in a particular district shall be a resident of that district.”

Amendments 3 and 4 provide for staggered three-year terms to be determined by council and possible elimination of term limits.

Amendment 5 would change from three to four the number of members to establish a quorum.

Committee members are Lowe, retired locksmith; Benny Smith, educator; Raymond Young, area pastor; Elgin Browning, emergency response coordinator for Invista; and former Orange Mayor Essie Bellfield. Council members are Theresa Beauchamp, Jeff Holland, Bill Mello, Jimmy Sims and Mayor Brown Claybar. Young did not attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Browning wondered if wording in Amendment 2 could be added to make it clear that voters would only consider the candidate from their district (plus at-large seats). City Attorney John Cash Smith and City Manager Shawn Oubre said ballots themselves would determine that.

“Let’s just say for discussion points that we all live in what’s going to be called District No. 1,” Oubre said. “And in that district you have Precincts 36, 37 and 38; of which we all may have different precinct  cards that say that when you come in to vote, you show your card and it’s 36; so they give you a ballot for District No. 1.”
Claybar said the issue could be discussed at the council’s annual neighborhood meetings, however, putting it on the city’s government channel might be construed as “telling people how to vote.”

Abstaining on Amendments 1, 2 and 4 was Bellfield, saying after the meeting “I don’t think they should have a seven-member council; it’s too many. Plus they (the committee) are only thinking of East Town, but what about The Cove, Little Cypress and other areas?” 

Browning also voted against the proposal to eliminate term limits, saying they are necessary to provide a “good system of checks and balances.”

Bellfield added that she had “snooped around the TML” (Texas Municipal League) and wondered if council members should have been involved in the charter change process. 

“You have the council telling us what they want,” she said. “We should have had people other than council members working on this. [It’s as if] the council’s advising themselves.”

John Cash Smith replied that legally, the council must be involved in changing elections.

“According to our current charter, the only way to change elections is through a petition or if the council proposes a change themselves,” he said.

Mello told Bellfield, “Hopefully we’ve all talked to other people to have more than just the voices in this room. I know Mr. Lowe has talked to quite a few.”