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Council to give charter changes second glances Tuesday

The Tucson City Council has proposed changes to the City Charter on the agenda twice for Tuesday's meetings.

The afternoon study session, scheduled for noon, includes 20 minutes set aside for discussion of the proposed changes to the city's governing document.

The evening meeting, set to begin at 5:30 p.m., will include a public hearing on the potential amendments to the charter.

The Tucson Charter Change Coalition, a group spearheaded by members of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, is pushing for changes in the charter. Coalition supporters say that the changes will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of city government, although they've been reluctant to point to any specific problem that changing the charter would fix.

While the details of the changes have been in flux as boosters have tried to build consensus for altering what is essentially Tucson's constitution, the basic proposals are:

Change the city manager's relationship to the council

The charter and Tucson's civil service rules would be changed to eliminate civil service protection for department heads and their deputies.

The city manager would have the authority to hire and fire most department heads, with the consent of the mayor and councill. The city attorney and city clerk would be under the authority of the council.

Some department heads would be directly under the authority of the city manager.

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Supporters of the change say the city manager should be a municipal CEO, with the capacity to hire and fire staffers and carry out the policies as directed by the city council.

Opponents say maintaining a strong mayor and council leads to direct accountability to the voters, and that giving the manager more power could provide special interests the ability to lobby behind the scenes.

Boost mayor and council salaries

The mayor and council would be paid based on the salaries of the county Board of Supervisors. Supervisors' salaries are set by the legislature every four years.

The mayor's salary would be raised to $76,600, equal to a supervisor's pay. Council members would be paid $61,280, 80 percent of the mayor's salary.

Supporters of a pay raise say that both mayor and council members are underpaid, and that a raise would widen the field of candidates.

While not many disagree with raising council pay in a revenue-neutral way (by cutting council staff, for instance), some charter change opponents say that the pay raise is a carrot to induce the council to give up some of its powers.

Establish mayoral parity

The mayor would have the same voting rights as council members, be deemed a member of the council, and count toward a quorum. Currently, there are issues on which the mayor may not vote, and only council members count toward a quorum.

Supporters of the change say that Tucson's restrictions on the mayor are a legacy of its original charter in 1929.

Even most opponents of changing the charter concede that there's no reason to limit the mayor's ability to vote. Some express worry about the details of making the mayor a full member of the council, such as giving the mayor the power to set the agenda.

Change the election cycle

City elections, now held in odd-numbered years, would be moved to even-numbered years. It's been an open question whether to continue with staggered terms, with only some members running in each election, or move to a system with all members running in each election.

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Holding elections at the same time as county and state elections could lead to lower costs and higher turnout, charter change supporters say.

Opponents of changing the election cycle point out that a move to even years could lead to less attention being paid to city elections, with higher profile national and state races attracting all of the notice (and funding, as well). They say a clean sweep of council members could eliminate the city's "institutional memory" all at once.

Last week, the council asked City Attorney Mike Rankin to prepare draft language for consideration at Tuesday's meeting.

If the potential changes are to be put to voters in November's election, the council must decide to do so by the July 7 meeting.

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have your say   

1 comment on this story

Jun 22, 2010, 7:44 am
-0 +0

Put it on the ballot.  Pass it.  Make the Mayor an equal partner.  Let Dept. heads hire and fire. 
Raise the pay…BUT…make the pay commensurate with “experience.”
Henceforth, all Council candidates and Mayoral candidates must have at least five years prior management experience in the private sector, including planning, budget and personnel matters.

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Where & when

Tucson City Council meetings

  • Study session: Tuesday, 12:00 p.m.
  • Regular meeting: Tuesday, 5:30 p.m.
  • Mayor and Council Chambers, City Hall, 255 W. Alameda St.

On the Web

Charter change draft

Read a draft of the potential charter changes (pdf)