San Antonio City Council met June 5 and got its first look at proposed city charter amendments.

What happened

A 15-member charter review commission, appointed by Mayor Ron Nirenberg, spent the winter and early spring focusing on 10 areas of discussion toward possible charter revisions.

Commission members also collected input from some residents before forwarding official recommended charter proposals, which, if approved by council, will end up on the Nov. 5 general election ballot alongside the presidential race and multiple federal, legislative and county elections.

The city has until a state deadline of Aug. 19 to set a November special election on any proposed charter amendments.

The specifics

The charter review commission recommended the following ballot proposals:
  • Strengthen ethics regulations for city leaders and employees by furnishing a high-level definition of “conflicts of interest,” requiring appropriate sufficient funding for the city’s Ethics Review Board to fulfill all duties, remove term limits for ERB members, and increase ERB discretion to determine whether to accept or refuse complaint cases when such cases have been otherwise resolved.
  • Extend mayoral and council term lengths to four-year, concurrent terms with a two-term limit, and raise council and mayor pay to $80,000 and $95,000, respectively.
  • Remove language limiting the city manager’s length of service and pay so City Council may determine both.
  • Provide an opportunity for redistricting if voters, through a future charter election, amend and increase the number of council districts. While the commission does not recommend raising the number of council districts for now, despite continuing population growth, the panel suggested creating a redistricting commission.
  • Modernize any outdated language and laws in the existing charter.
Diving in deeper

While council took no action on recommended charter amendments June 5, the city’s elected leaders debated the merits of suggested revisions, particularly the council compensation issue, which drew criticism during charter review commission meetings.

Many council members disagreed with the recommended level of pay increases for the city’s top elected leaders, saying such compensation should be tied more closely to the average median income in the San Antonio metropolitan area. Council members receive a salary of $45,722, and the mayor receives a salary of $61,725.

Nearly all council members supported a proposal to remove existing pay and tenure caps that were imposed on the city manager following a 2018 city charter amendment election, which was sparked by a petition drive led by the San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association.

The city manager’s pay ceiling of $364,000 is 10 times what the city’s lowest-paid full-time employee earns. The city manager is limited to serving eight years. These caps, city leaders argued, make it harder for them to recruit and retain quality talent for such a key position.

Council members were divided on expanding the two-year term in office to four years. Some council members said such a revision, if approved by council and then voters, would give office-holders more time to focus on their daily duties, and less time worrying about campaigning and fundraising for re-election. Other members said keeping the term at two years ensures the elected leader is constantly held accountable to constituents.

Council members were also divided over a proposal to set up a citizens' redistricting commission, voicing concerns that such a panel would endure public questions about its independence.

Additionally, some council members shared worries about a proposal to enable voters to directly raise the number of council districts.

Council members by consensus backed other proposed charter amendments pertaining only to language modernization and revamps to ethics policies.

What’s next

Council is slated to meet Aug. 8 and vote on which recommended charter amendment to place on the November election ballot.