The City of Tucson

The Tucson Charter Change Coalition (TC3)

Meeting Summaries

Fifth meeting, Nov. 10, 2014

Charter Review Committee recommends city taxing changes; plans to vote on city election recommendations at next meeting

The city’s Charter Review Committee voted unanimously Tuesday, Nov. 10, to recommend allowing the city to use tax revenue to guarantee bonds and to recommend removing the cap on the city’s secondary property tax.

Allowing the city to use tax revenue to guarantee bonds could save the city half a percent per year in interest payments – a significant amount when dealing with millions of dollars, Kelly Gottschalk, assistant city manager and the city’s chief financial officer, told committee members. To raise money for capital improvements, the city currently issues Certificates of Participation, which are less secure to bond issuers (and therefore more expensive) because they are dependent on annual appropriations by the mayor and council.

On the second taxation issue, Tucson’s charter currently caps the combined primary and secondary tax rates at $1.75 per $100 of assessed valuation. However, Gottschalk told committee members that no other Arizona city places limits on both primary and secondary property tax rates. There is no practical reason to have a city limit, Gottschalk said, because Arizona law limits increases in primary tax revenues, which fund maintenance and operations, to a growth of two percent per year, plus new construction and an assessment for tort liability. Secondary taxes are limited by law to the amount necessary to pay off voter-approved bonds.

In addition to the taxing issues, the committee also began discussing city elections and plans to vote on election recommendations at its next meeting. Among the election issues discussed were nonpartisan primaries, ward-only elections, staggered elections (which see half the council members elected every two years), the number of members on the city council, and mayor and council salaries. The next meeting will be held Thursday, Nov. 20, at 4:00 p.m. at City Hall.

In a discussion about ensuring community awareness of the committee’s actions, consultant Raphe Sonenshein told the committee members: “If nobody comes to the calls to the audience to complain about your decisions, then that will tell you something.”

In accordance with a policy the committee is following, the committee’s recommendations are tentative at this stage, and the committee can reconsider them again later.

Fourth meeting, Oct. 22, 2014

Charter Review Committee considers “stronger mayor” and the city’s taxing authority

Continuing their discussion of whether Tucson needs to change its form of government, the charter review committee members discussed the roles of the mayor, council members and the city manager in seven other Western cities.

View Sonenshein's
“Strong Mayor” Chart ›

Reacting to a “stronger mayor” chart prepared by consultant Raphael Sonenshein, the committee members discussed such issues as a mayoral veto, who appoints and removes department heads, who appoints and removes the city manager, and the number and structure of city council members.

The committee reached no decisions on the “stronger mayor” issue and said it would return to it at a future date.

View Rankin's
“Tucson Charter Provisions” ›

The committee also heard a presentation by City Attorney Mike Rankin on the city’s taxing authority, as he reviewed a handout “Tucson Charter Provisions – Taxing Authority and Related Issues.”

In its resolution creating the charter review committee, the city council asked the committee to consider charter sections dealing with three taxing and bonding issues. The handout highlighted three possibilities:

The committee made no decisions on the taxing issues but will hear a presentation from a bond expert at its next meeting on Nov. 10.

Third meeting, October 6, 2014

Charter Review Committee elects officers and votes to recommend increasing mayor’s powers as it focuses on forms of city government

Members of the Charter Review Committee chose attorney Kasey Nye to be the committee chair and Diana Rhoades to be vice-chair. She is former chief of staff to Council member Regina Romero.

Consultant Raphael Sonenshein presented the committee members with a chart that places the various forms of local government on a spectrum ranging from a pure council-manager system to a pure mayor-council system, popularly known as “strong mayor.”

View Sonenshein's
“Forms of Government” ›

The choice is not between a strong mayor or a weak mayor, Sonenshein told committee members, but between a stronger mayor and a weaker mayor. He urged committee members not to talk about the power of different city offices, but rather to talk about the responsibility of the offices.

Without precluding further action on the responsibilities of the mayor, city manager, and city council, the committee voted unanimously to recommend allowing the mayor to vote on any issue on which council members can vote and to count towards a quorum at council meetings. Under the current charter, the mayor cannot vote to fire key officials such as the city manager or the police and fire chiefs, and he does not count toward determining whether the council has a quorum.

The committee decided at this early stage to make all recommendations tentative, with the final determination on recommendations to be made next spring.

In addition to discussing the forms of government, the committee discussed, but reached no conclusion on, such issues as ward-only elections and having an appointed professional or an elected official running the city. Several comments were made about a lack of trust in the community for city government.

The committee also set future meetings for the following dates:

All meetings will be begin at 4 p.m. and will be held at the Tucson City Hall, either in the City Council Chambers or the first floor conference room.

Second meeting, September 15, 2014

Charter Review Committee adopts far-reaching, ambitious work plan

View the Committee's
Six Broad Issues ›

Members of the Charter Review Committee outlined six broad areas about which they want to consider improvements to the Tucson City Charter, including such issues as whether the city needs a stronger mayor, whether to change the current election process to ward-only and nonpartisan elections, and whether to increase salaries for council members and the mayor.

In addition, the committee asked city staff to make recommendations for cleaning up the charter by removing or revising such things as outdated references and contradictions with state law.

No decisions were made on these or any other issues. The committee used its second meeting to begin organizing its work. But the scope of outlined issues indicates the committee will be dealing with far-reaching and sometimes controversial issues.

First meeting, August 14, 2014

Charter Review Committee has opportunity ‘to make history’

“If you pull off a successful charter reform, you will be making history for your city,” consultant Raphael Sonenshein told members of the Tucson Charter Review Committee at their first meeting on August 14. Charter reform is “a powerful process,” Sonenshein said, adding that the committee’s “recommendations will carry more weight than you think now.”

The mayor and council created the charter committee on June 3 with instructions to review and recommend changes to the city’s charter, which was first implemented in 1929. The charter, comparable to a constitution, establishes the roles, responsibilities, authorities and relationships that form Tucson city government.

Committee members decided at this organizational meeting to:

In advance of their next meeting, committee members were asked to read the city’s charter and select provisions that they question or want to explore. The tentative agenda is to discuss priorities and create a calendar for future meetings, working backward from the April 1 goal of reporting to the mayor and council.

“This is a priority committee,” City Attorney Mike Rankin told the committee members. “You can see the level of commitment from the mayor and council.”

“Most likely you will never have an opportunity like this again,” Sonenshein told the members. “You are going to find this to be one of the most rewarding civic enterprises you’ve ever been involved in.”

SALC will continue to monitor the meetings and send reports to members of the Tucson Charter Change Coalition. A list of members and meeting agendas are available online here.

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