The City of Tucson

The Tucson Charter Change Coalition (TC3)

Meeting Summaries

Final Meeting, March 25, 2015

Charter committee finishes work, wants stronger mayor and stronger city manager

The city’s Charter Review Committee finished its work March 25 with a marathon 5½-hour session, during which it reaffirmed several recommendations, including creating both a stronger mayor and a stronger city manager.

In brief, the committee recommended the City Council put on the ballot charter changes that would:

Unable to reach consensus on ward-only elections, the committee recommended that the City Council create a working group to study ward-only elections and any related issues (such as annexation, campaign finance, additional wards, or nonpartisan elections) in time for possibly placing a recommendation on the 2016 ballot.

Next steps:

Learn more about the final recommendations ›

Tenth meeting, Feb. 9, 2015 & Eleventh meeting, Feb. 19, 2015

Committee recommends ward-only elections and strengthening mayor’s role; clarifies hiring and firing authority

At its Feb. 9 and Feb. 19 meetings, the Charter Review Committee adopted several recommendations as it firmed up the package of recommendations it will present at public hearings to be held in early March. The recommendations are tentative until the committee makes them final at its last meeting, which will be held in late March or early April.

The most recent recommendations are:

Contrary to the rules by which the committee has operated its calls-to-the-audience at committee meetings, the committee set no time limit for speakers at the public hearings and adopted rules that will allow committee members to interact with speakers.

Final committee meeting: The committee’s final meeting is scheduled for March 25, at 4:00 p.m. on the first floor of City Hall, 255 W. Alameda. At that meeting the committee members will have the opportunity to amend recommendations based on the public feedback. Then, they will make the recommendations final and send them to the mayor and city council for their consideration. The committee’s recommendations are advisory only, but the anticipation is that the mayor and council will submit at least some of the recommendations to the voters for the November election. No changes to the city’s charter can be made without voter approval.

Ninth meeting, Jan. 20, 2015

Charter committee recommends changing the authority to hire and fire department heads; adopts proposal for community outreach

Members of the Charter Review Committee voted unanimously to recommend requiring City Council approval for the hiring of department heads, and to allow either the City Council or the city manager to fire department heads. Presently, the city charter prescribes different processes for the hiring or firing of department heads, with some department heads being hired or fired by the city manager, while with other department heads the city council is involved to different degrees in their hiring or firing.

Under the committee’s recommendation, all department heads – other than the city attorney, city clerk, city manager, and magistrates – would be appointed by the city manager, with the approval of a majority of the mayor and City Council. Then, either the city manager or a supermajority of the mayor and council could fire a department head. In general, the city council currently does not have a role in the firing of department heads.

In a change from current practice, the police and fire chiefs would be hired and fired in the same way as the other department heads. Presently, they can be fired only by a supermajority of the City Council. Under the committee’s recommendation the police and fire chiefs would retain the limited civil service protection that currently allows them to appeal to the Civil Service Commission. The commission’s ruling, however, would remain advisory only.

The recommendation would not significantly affect the hiring or firing of the city attorney, city clerk, city manager and magistrates. Currently, the mayor and council hire these offices, and they can be fired by a majority of the council members. One of the eccentricities in Tucson’s charter is that the mayor presently doesn’t have a vote in their firing. The mayor would have a vote under the recommendation.

Public meetings: In other action, the committee voted to hold two public meetings, one on the eastside of the city, and the other on the south side. The meetings tentatively will be held on March 10 and March12 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at locations yet to be determined.

Committee members were encouraged to informally reach out to others in the community to tell them about the committee’s progress. In addition, the committee intends to send out press releases, an op-ed piece, and emails in order to increase the public’s awareness of the charter changes the committee is recommending and to increase participation at the public meetings.

Next meeting: Salaries for the mayor and council and campaign finance are scheduled to be key topics at the committee’s next meeting, Feb. 9, from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. on the first floor of City Hall.

Eighth meeting, Jan. 8, 2015

Charter committee votes to remove civil service protection for department heads; adopts goals

Members of the Charter Review Committee voted unanimously to tentatively recommend that all department heads, with the exception of the police and fire chiefs, would serve at-will. This recommendation would remove the civil service protection that most department heads now enjoy.

The police and fire chiefs were singled out so they would retain the limited form of civil service protection they now enjoy. Should they be fired, the police and fire chiefs can appeal to the Civil Service Commission, but the commission’s findings are advisory only. With other employees, the city must abide by the commission’s findings.

In other action, committee members voted unanimously to adopt seven goals as they review and make recommendations for changing the city’s charter, which, in essence, is the city’s constitution:

Seventh meeting, Dec. 15, 2014

Charter Review Committee supports stronger executive at top of Tucson city government

Members of the city’s Charter Review Committee unanimously voted at their Dec. 15 meeting to strengthen the executive in charge of running Tucson city government. However, the committee postponed a decision as to whether that executive should be a newly empowered mayor or the city manager.

The committee instructed city staff members to research other cities in which the mayor attends and presides over city council meetings in a non-voting role but has the authority to veto council decisions. Materials presented to the committee at previous meetings list Long Beach, El Paso, and San Bernardino as examples of cities with those policies.

In their discussion before the vote, at least 10 of the 14 members present at the meeting said they want a professional city manager to run the city’s daily operations and to appoint and remove department heads. Additionally, six members said they favor the mayor’s being able to veto council decisions, while five members said they opposed the mayor’s having a veto.

The committee decided at its first meeting in August to treat all decisions as tentative until early in 2015. That allows committee members to revisit earlier decisions and to ensure ambiguities and conflicts are removed before presenting their recommendations to the City Council.

Committee members also conducted a preliminary discussion about removing civil service protection from department heads. The trend among cities making a change in the provision of civil service is toward requiring department heads to be at-will employees, consultant Raphael Sonenshein told the committee members. Removing civil service from department heads enhances the role of the city’s executive, Sonenshein said. The committee is scheduled to deal with civil service more formally at its meeting on Jan. 8, 2015.

In the call to the audience at the beginning of the meeting, Roberto Bodoya, executive director of the Tucson Pima Arts Council, told committee members that other cities provide support to the arts at the rate of $5.44 per capita, while Tucson provides only 64 cents per capita. He encouraged committee members to recommend inserting language into the city’s charter to the effect that the city is committed to the arts.

Also at the call to the audience, three speakers from the business community – Sarah Smallhouse of the Thomas R. Brown Foundations, Garry Brav of BFL Ventures, and Thomas Keating of Trailhead Ventures – all spoke to the need for stronger leadership in Tucson city government. Nobody appears to be in charge, Brav said, adding that you cannot get leadership from a committee. Smallhouse said the lack of leadership makes it difficult to invest in the city and to know whom to hold accountable. And Keating said, “The city is in desperate need of leadership.”

Sixth meeting, Nov. 20, 2014

Charter Review Committee considers changing city council elections

At their Nov. 20 meeting, Charter Review Committee members extensively discussed changing Tucson’s method of electing city council members, but they did not make a decision.

Seven committee members said Tucson’s unique method of combining ward-only primaries with citywide general elections – a method used by very few other cities in the nation – appears to be working well. However, three other committee members spoke in favor of a more traditional hybrid election in which most of the city council members are elected by their wards while two or three council members are elected citywide. Another committee member said she leaned toward ward-only elections.

Consultant Raphael Sonenshein told committee members that smaller cities tend to elect council members citywide, while larger cities tend to elect council members by ward. However, 40 percent of cities over 200,000 in population have adopted a hybrid system, with some council members elected by ward and some elected citywide, Sonenshein said.

Sonenshein also told committee members that ward-only elections would give Republican candidates a better chance to be elected in Wards 2 and 4. Ward 2 is almost evenly balanced between Republican and Democrat voters, while Ward 4 has nearly 1,300 more Republican than Democrat voters. Citywide, Democrats have a 39,000-vote registration advantage over Republicans. Currently, all six city council members are Democrats, as is the mayor.

The committee deferred a decision on city council elections after some committee members said they would prefer to first reconsider the issue of a stronger mayor for Tucson. For some committee members, the stronger the mayor, the more likely they are to prefer ward-only elections for council members.

In the call to the audience at the meeting’s beginning, Sarah Smallhouse told committee members the city’s structure is an “impediment.” Improving the city’s organization can make Tucson function better and make it more attractive to outsiders, Smallhouse said.

Also at the call to the audience, Garry Brav told committee members Tucson needs to accommodate both business and growth. “We’re either growing or we’re shrinking,” Brav said, adding that growth provides jobs and opportunities.

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