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Voters want more time, charter town hall signals

  • Updated

Consensus at a town-hall meeting Wednesday night to talk about City Charter changes seemed to be that the issue is coming too fast without offering voters enough opportunity to shape the package they could be asked to vote on.

At a meeting at the Ward 3 council office, about two dozen people hashed over a package of four proposals for changing the City Charter that would:

• Make it easier to fire city department heads and their deputies.

• Increase the salaries of the mayor and council while making them full-time positions.

• Give the mayor more parity with council positions so the officeholder would count toward a quorum and could vote on firing a city manager.

• Change the election dates for mayor and council, which could include everything from having members run as a full slate instead of serving staggered terms, to changing the current odd-year cycle to coincide with gubernatorial and presidential elections.

The audience, with heavy representation from neighborhood interests, mulled the pros and cons of the proposals. Some in the group said easing civil-service rules could increase staff responsiveness, while others said it could further politicize the positions.

Moving the elections to one full slate, explained Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, might mean "everyone would be freaking out during the same year" so there would be three years of a stable legislative environment.

Or it could mean special interests could sway an election and turn over the entire council at once, eliminating institutional memory, some of those in attendance said.

Although the package, which originated with the Southern Arizona Leadership Council, was first unveiled at community meetings in late April, it was clear that many of those in attendance wanted the process to slow down. The City Council is expected to vote next week on whether to forward the package to the November ballot.

"I think we need more time to do more research," said Suzanne Trappman, a retired social-service worker who is active in the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association.

Former Councilman Steve Leal said he would suggest pushing it back another year, saying he's concerned there's been a "conscious exaggeration" about the dysfunction of the city that's being used to lend legitimacy to the measure.

Bob Schlanger, who owns an auto-repair business, said other than a general sense of dysfunctionality in city government, he needed a better idea of what the package attempted to resolve. "I feel like I'm being thrust into the endgame without having been part of the process," he said.

Meanwhile, Angie Quiroz, who is active with the Santa Rita Park Neighborhood Association, said she was concerned that Spanish-speaking voters and those without access to computers weren't given sufficient buy-in in shaping the package.

Uhlich said while she takes the input seriously, she's also torn because she's reluctant to pass up an opportunity to forward a package to the voters if it would improve governance.

She has another town hall today - as do several of her colleagues in other council offices. She said she would have a better idea about her position on the issue by Friday.

More town halls

Several City Council offices are hosting town halls today on proposed charter changes that could be forwarded to the ballot.

If you want to weigh in, here's where you can go:

• Ward 2 is hosting an informational meeting at the council office at 7575 E. Speedway from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. Information: 791-4687.

• Wards 1 and 5 are joining forces for a two-hour town hall, beginning at 6 p.m., at the El Pueblo Activity Center, 101 W. Irvington Road. Information: 791-4040 or 791-4231.

• Ward 3 is hosting a forum at noon at the council office, 1510 E. Grant Road. Information: 791-4711.

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 573-4243 or

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