Just ahead of May 5 vote, Lakeway suspends 3-year terms for council members

Lakeway voters will no longer have to choose city council candidates in 2018 run-off elections, due to council's decision April 23 to revert to two-year terms.

Lakeway voters will no longer have to choose city council candidates in 2018 run-off elections, due to council's decision April 23 to revert to two-year terms.

Three years after amending its city charter to allow for three-year, staggered terms for council members, Lakeway City Council unanimously voted Monday to revert to two-year terms to fix a flaw that ran counter to the Texas Constitution. The 2014 amendment failed to account for majority elections called for under the constitution where a candidate must secure more than 50 percent of the vote, so electing council members by a plurality of votes was deemed unconstitutional, according to a release.

Going back to shorter terms will allow city voters to fill current open council seats in the May 5 election under the first-past-the-post model until council can address the flaw in the charter. There will be no run-off elections as a result.

“Although disappointing in some way for some of the candidates, council's thoughts were that protecting the city and its citizens was the most important issue,” Mayor Joe Bain wrote in his weekly blog. “If there are candidates that decide to protest the election (and I expect some will) it will leave the city on solid legal ground.”

Council’s decision to suspend three-year terms also eliminates the need for a special election to fill mayor candidate Jean Hennagin’s council seat. She was deemed to have resigned because of a stipulation in the constitution that applies only to candidates running for three-year terms.

The decision to reset council terms was based on recommendations in a letter to the city attorney from staff at the Texas Secretary of State. It reads in part, "After this [May] election, we recommend that the city council pass an ordinance assigning place numbers to the council members. We recommend assigning place 1 and place 2 to the two individuals who will just have been elected, and then assigning places 3-6 to the remaining council members."

In a lengthy formula, the state attorneys also recommend council order a special election to fill the four remaining places in November 2018. Those four would then go on the ballot again in May 2019, along with the office of mayor. After that, the charter provision for three-year terms could be put in place, according to the letter. 

Lakeway City Manager Steve Jones confirmed in an email, council does not have to address creating places for council members right away. However, there will be a November 2018 election to fill two council seats (now occupied by Dwight Haley and Jean Hennagin) and the new mayor's term will be one year, ending May 2019.

Fixing the city charter

The other item that was brought up April 23 involved amendments to repair the city charter. A provision in the Texas Constitution restricts home rule charter amendments to only every two years. But there are charter amendment choices on the current ballot.  If the current election results in a revision to the charter, the city cannot call a vote to address the flaw until November 2020.

“It would be in the best interest in my opinion for voters to vote against all of the charter amendments [on the current ballot],” Bain wrote. “Although there is no legal precedent that was found that tells us calling the election doesn't start the two-year clock on charter amendments, we think a passed amendment would surely start that clock and  it would be good to amend the charter in the November election."
By Rob Maxwell
Rob Maxwell joined the world of print journalism and Community Impact in Sept. 2017 as editor of the Lake Travis - Westlake edition. He previously enjoyed a successful and rewarding career in radio and television news. In his spare time, Rob can be found scoping out area climbing walls and hiking trails. He lives in Cedar Park with his wife and daughters and looks forward to receiving his LCP edition of Community Impact Newspaper every month.


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