Fort Worth

Residents call for increasing City Council size sooner than 2023

Fort Worth City Hall, 1000 Throckmorton St.
Fort Worth City Hall, 1000 Throckmorton St. Star-Telegram archives

The City Council appears ready to ask voters in May to consider making at least a dozen changes to the City Charter, including wording regarding filling vacant council seats and making more clear how municipal judges serve.

On Tuesday, City Attorney Sarah Fullenwider presented an overview of 23 staff-initiated proposed technical amendment changes designed to improve city functions and others that bring the charter in line with state law.

Those amendments would be in addition to four major changes being proposed by a task force that the council established in July to look at the charter. In December, the 11-member group recommended pay raises for the council and mayor, increasing the size of the council to 10 districts, increasing mayor and council terms from two to three years, but keeping terms concurrent.

If held, the charter election would be May 7.

Councilman Dennis Shingleton said the large number of proposed amendments is “a burdensome challenge for any voter,” and is recommending that the council put fewer to a vote.

At a public hearing Tuesday night, about a dozen residents spoke in favor of increasing the mayor and council pay, as well as increasing the size of the council, but many asked that it be done in time for the 2017 election. The task force recommended that the increase in districts come after the 2020 Census and the districts drawn in time for the 2023 election.

But based on the city’s growing population, it’s better to increase the council size now, the group said. Some recommended expanding to 12 council districts plus the mayor, in part to give better representation to the Hispanic community.

“Ten plus one is a good, but we believe to be effective, 12 plus one would be a better configuration,” Jesse Aguilera said. “Use the data that’s available now.”

Resident Jason Smith recommended that the council also look at raising the minimum wage for city employees and city contract employees to $11 an hour as they consider raising their own pay. About 235 Fort Worth employees would receive raises if the minimum wage is increased, he said.

“The pay increase makes sense,” Smith said. “It’s a great opportunity for voters to decide a minimum wage. Cities across Texas are doing this.”

Dallas city employees are paid $10.62 an hour. Texas legislators last year failed to approve a measure that would have raised the minimum wage in Texas to $10.10.

The task force recommends that council pay be increased to $45,000 annually, up from $25,000, and the mayor’s pay to $60,000 annually, up from $29,000. The raises increases would take effect Oct. 1, the start of the city’s fiscal year.

Some of the technical changes would address such things as allowing the filling of a vacant council seat within 12 months rather than within 90 days of an election; swearing-in council members at the meeting when election results are canvassed, rather than having to wait an additional week; and changing to 180 the number of days a person running for the council must live in a district before the first day of filing to run. Currently, council members must live in the district a full six months.

Other proposed changes include how municipal judges serve, how the city budget is adopted, and allowing for online publication of certain city records that now have to be published in a printed newspaper.

Council members will decide in February whether they will call the charter election for May 7. They could choose to limit the ballot. A second public hearing is scheduled for Jan. 26.

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