City Charter Review Committee 2014 – 2015

October 2015

Three November 2015 Ballot Education Forums were held in three locales in Tucson on September 30, October 6 and October 7, 2015.  Flyer

The slide presentation used in the education forums is available here. Questions may be directed here.

April 8, 2015

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, March 25, 2015
Compiled by Bonnie Poulos and Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee (CRC) held its final meeting, March 25, 2015, 3-7:30 P.M. in the City Hall meeting room. Fourteen appointed members were present. Approximately sixteen citizens came to observe some portion of the meeting; six people participated in the call-to-the-audience. Chairperson Nye had prepared a Summary Status Report to guide the committee through the last step of their deliberations: deciding what recommendations to send on to Mayor and Council and how to package those items. The committee was in accord on almost all items, including a draft of a preamble. The two proposed recommendations which resulted in a split vote were how to elect council members (to keep the present system or to move to ward-only) and eliminating the prohibition on pledging sales taxes.

Below are the recommendations being sent to Mayor and Council for their decision as to which items will be on the November 2015 ballot:

Recommendation to adopt a Preamble to the Charter (unanimously approved): “We, the people of the City of Tucson, under the authority granted by the Constitution of the State of Arizona, establish this Charter as the fundamental law of the City in order to protect and enhance the health, safety, education and general welfare of the people; to enable municipal government to meet the needs of the people effectively and efficiently; to improve the quality of life for the City’s residents, businesses and visitors; to support cooperation with regional jurisdictions and our international neighbors; to encourage fair and equal participation of all persons in the affairs of the City; to provide educational and economic opportunities that allow all to prosper; to provide for accountability and ethics in public service; to appreciate the power of diversity and unity; to protect the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic qualities of the Sonoran Desert environment; and to promote the arts and the diverse cultures that contribute to the uniqueness of this City.”

Recommendation to grant the Mayor a full voice and vote on all matters before the City Council and for the Mayor to count towards a quorum (unanimously approved). This is also known as “Mayoral parity.”

Recommendation to simplify the appointment and removal process for appointed officers and department directors (unanimously approved). There were four parts to this recommendation:

    • Mayor and Council to appoint and remove City Manager, City Clerk, City Attorney and City Magistrates by majority vote;
    • City Manager to appoint all other appointed officers and Department Directors with approval by a majority vote of Mayor and Council;
    • City Manager has sole authority to remove those appointed officers and Department Directors (with exception of those officers directly appointed by Mayor and Council);
    • All Department Directors and appointed officers shall serve “at will,” exempt from Civil Service protections, except that the Fire Chief and Police Chief will retain limited advisory Civil Service appeal rights currently allowed in the Charter.

Recommendation to incorporate mutual respect and non-interference sections from the Code of Ethics Ordinance into the Charter (unanimously approved). The language adopted from the ordinance is as follows: “The City Manager and all City employees shall: 1) Consistently demonstrate professionalism and the commitment to ethics and excellence; 2) Recognize that the Mayor and Council serves as the link between the citizens and government, and as the legislative authority of the City, make policy decisions about City functions based on recommendations of the Manager; and 3) Recognize that they do not set policy, but make policy recommendations and are responsible for carrying out the Mayor and Council’s policy decisions. Furthermore, the Elected Officials of the City, and their appointed staff members, shall 1) Consistently demonstrate professionalism and the commitment to ethics and excellence; 2) Recognize and respect the role of the City Manager and City staff, and shall not interfere with the execution by the City Manager of the Manager’s powers and duties, or order, directly or indirectly, the appointment by the City Manager of any person to an office or employment or removal there from; and 3) Work solely through the City Manager or the City Manager’s designated staff. They may ask other City administrative officers and employees about the status of a matter and may ask for information, but shall not expressly or implicitly give orders or direction to those employees, publicly or privately.”

Recommendation to clean up the Charter language to make it gender-neutral and to correct or delete references to departments and positions that have changed or no longer exist (unanimously approved). Throughout out the Charter, Councilman to be replaced with Council member, he with he/she and his with his/her, Superintendent of Streets with Transportation Director and Superintendent of Water Department with Water Department Director; and references to offices that no longer exist such as library board and treasurer to be deleted.

Recommendation to replace the job description of Fire Chief (Chapter 10 § 9) with one that more accurately describes the position (unanimously approved). The specific wording is “The fire chief shall direct all activities within the fire department including: all hazards, fire/rescue response, emergency medical response, emergency communications, emergency management, fire prevention, and community risk reduction activities and education.”

The Charter Review Committee recommended that the above changes be incorporated into a single ballot measure (unanimously approved).

The remainder of the Committee’s changes to the Charter were all recommended to be “stand alone” ballot measures as follows:

Recommendation to add an arts and culture amendment to the Enumerated Powers in the Charter (unanimously approved). Specifically, the Committee recommended to ”Amend Chapter IV § 1 (6) Enumerated Powers to expressly authorize the city to acquire property for public performing arts facilities and public cultural facilities; and, amend Chapter XIII § 8 to authorize the City to tax for bonds for the establishment and support of public arts and culture institutions”.

Recommendation to modify the cap in the City’s Charter that limits the imposition of business transaction privilege taxes on both the primary and secondary property taxes by applying the cap only to the primary property tax (unanimously approved). Any increase to the secondary property tax rate already requires a vote of the public. The recommendation approved states “Amend Chapter IV § 2 Change the Heading to ‘Business privilege tax and property tax,’ and modify the $1.75 per $100 of assessed value limit on ad valorem taxes so that it does not apply to secondary property taxes, but only so long as state law requires a majority of voters to approve any increases to the secondary property tax on the ballot in a general election.”

Recommendation to eliminate the prohibition in the Charter that prevents the Mayor and Council from using sales tax revenues to secure bonds which limits the City’s financing options (unanimously approved). The recommendation states “Amend Chapter IV § 1(16)(a) to delete the prohibition on pledging excise taxes without prior voter approval. “
Recommendation to grant the Mayor and Council the ability to impose sales tax increases in excess of 2% if the voters approve the increase at a general election (approved by a 9 to 5 vote).”

The Charter Review Committee was unable to reach any consensus on the system of elections used by the city wherein there is a ward-only primary election to select candidates and an at-large general election to elect the final candidate. A vote to recommend putting ward-only elections for both the primary and general election of council members on the ballot failed by a tie vote of seven to seven. After much discussion, the committee recommended that Mayor and Council form an advisory group to study the issue in depth and make recommendations regarding the system of elections for inclusion in the next (i.e. 2017) general election ballot (approved by a vote of eight to six). Specifically the recommendation was to advise that “Mayor and Council form a working-group to continue to evaluate the issue of Ward-Only elections together with other interrelated election issues.”

The Charter Review Committee voted unanimously to approve the recommendations and forward them to the Mayor and Council for their consideration.

(Additional rationale and commentary are available in Committee chairperson Nye’s report (here) submitted to Mayor & Council for the April 21, 2015 Study Session.)

March 5, 2015

Executive Summary of Recommendations for Public Comment

A public comment period is open through March 20, 2015. Written comments may be submitted to the City Clerk’s Office by email to, or by mail to: City Clerk’s Office, P.O. Box 27210, Tucson, AZ 85726. The Charter Review Committee will also conduct public hearings where members of the public may address the Committee directly on:

March 10, 2015, 5 p.m. El Pueblo Neighborhood Center, 101 W. Irvington Road
March 12, 2015, 5 p.m. Morris K. Udall Regional Center, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road

The Committee will meet again on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 to finalize its recommendations after taking the public’s input into account. The Committee’s recommendations will be presented to Mayor and Council in April. The public will again have an opportunity to provide input to Mayor and Council which has until July 7th to determine whether to place Charter changes on the November 3, 2015 ballot. If so, Tucson voters will have the power to decide whether to change the Charter.

February 19, 2015

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, February 19, 2015
Compiled by Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee held its eleventh meeting, February 19, 2015, 4-7 P.M., in the City Hall meeting room. Twelve appointed members were present. Approximately 17 citizens and city employees came to observe some portion of the meeting; seven people participated in the call-to-the-audience. Chairperson Nye told members he had updated the distributed Summary Status of Charter Review Committee Work to Date to include February 9, 2015 decisions. For this meeting, the in-depth discussion topics were a wrap up of open issues and planning for the Public Comment Period.

Key points:

1. The arts community has spoken at numerous call-to-the audiences in support of the language it had submitted to be added to the City Charter to document City of Tucson’s support and value for arts/culture. Attorney Rankin pointed out that the City can only expend public funds for public purposes. The committee tentatively approved a January 28, 2015 letter from Pima Council of Arts, adding the word “public” in appropriate places, for inclusion in the charter.

2. Consultant Sonenshein warned the committee that putting too many specifics of Charter reform on the ballot could lead to voter rejection of all of them. He suggested they move forward with a recommendation that the Charter language be updated to be gender-neutral and to remove archaic language; these could be simple lines on the election ballot. When moving to topics, such as powers and duties of the City Manager and/or details of department heads’ hiring and removal, there would need to be specific strike out and replacement language on the ballot. Adding too much revision of the basic document might better be seen as a project for the future.

3. The committee favors adding a Preamble to the Charter as a means of addressing community values and aspirations. In the light of the limited time remaining, it was suggested that a sub-committee draft a preamble for full committee consideration at the March 25, 2015 meeting.

4. Mayor/Council salaries were again discussed. The Compensation Committee, which is mandated in the Charter to meet every two years, is meeting concurrently and will make their own recommendations which go directly on the ballot; Mayor and Council have no say in that action. Given that the Compensation Committee’s recommendation will be on the November ballot at the same time that Mayor/Council’s recommendations for Charter Revision are, there is the danger that the public will link the issues together to the detriment of the Charter changes. Consultant Sonenshein recommended that the Charter Review Committee take no position on salaries for this reason.

5. After discussion, the Committee likewise decided to table the issue of the charter’s Campaign Finance Provision as beyond the scope of this Charter Review Committee.

6. The meeting concluded with planning for the up-coming public meetings: March 10, 2015, 5 p.m., El Pueblo Neighborhood Center, 101 W, Irvington Road and March 12, 2015, 5 p.m., Morris K. Udall Regional Center, 7200 E. Tanque Verde Road.

7. Input from those meetings and written comments sent to the City Clerk will be part of the discussion at the next, and hopefully last, Charter Review Committee on Wednesday, March 25, 4 p.m., City Hall, 255 W. Alameda, 1st Floor. At that time, the Committee will determine what recommendations it wishes to submit to Mayor and Council for November 2015 election consideration; it may also make a list of other recommendations that Mayor and Council can consider for ballot inclusion at some future date.

February 9, 2015

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, February 9, 2015
Compiled by Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee held its tenth meeting, February 9, 2015, 4-7 P.M., in the City Hall meeting room. Fifteen appointed members were present. Approximately 24 citizens and council staff employees came to observe some portion of the meeting; eight people participated in the call-to-the-audience. Chairperson Nye reminded members he had updated the distributed Summary Status of Charter Review Committee Work to Date, which he had compiled and shared with Mayor and Council at their Study Session on February 4, 2015.

For this meeting, the in-depth discussion topics were Deliberations and Vote Regarding Ward Only General Elections, Mayoral Veto/Council Override Amendments, and Reconsideration of last session’s motion concerning who can remove department directors. Introductory topics, which concluded the session, included Elected Official Salaries, Campaign Finance provision, Value Issues: Arts/Environment/Anti-Discrimination Diversity and Preamble.

Key points:

1. Chairman Nye had organized a debate format to facilitate consideration of Ward only general elections (as opposed to Tucson’s present Ward only primaries and city-wide general elections) and mayoral veto/council override (which does not now exist).

2. Arguments for Ward only general elections centered on the need for better accountability and reflection of diversity of community values. When the entire city votes for specific Ward council members, it sometimes results in that Ward having a representative who did not receive a majority of votes from that specific Ward. Need for political diversity should be respected as well as cultural diversity. Arguments for keeping our existing hybrid system centered on retaining a system which has served us well. Each Ward does select two people during its primary elections to be on the city-wide ballot, so Ward voters do have a voice in who can represent them. Having council members selected in a city-wide general election means they will be more focused on what is best for the entire city, not just their Ward.

3. The argument to give the mayor a veto and council an override centered on the need to match public perception that the mayor has power to get things done, that it is easier to work with an executive who has power designated by the charter than power simply emanating from an individual’s personality. The counter argument was that there is no need to distinguish the mayor’s role from that of the City Council. The mayor should be on parity with Council (which would require a charter change) but putting that individual in a hierarchical role concentrates too much power in one position. Doing so raises other issues, such as defusing the mayor’s power through term limits and how to define the override procedures without raising the number of council members to an uneven number.)

4. Committee members were asked to express their opinions in a non-binding vote on specific components of these issues to get an idea where the committee was heading:

        • Two thirds of committee members agreed in principle to a mayoral veto (10 for, 5 against)
        • A large majority agreed that the mayor should have a four year term with no term limits ( 13 for, 2 against)
        • A split vote resulted on adding any additional council members (6 for, 9 against)
        • A split vote resulted on the proposal that if the mayor had a veto, it should be accompanied by Ward only elections (8 for, 7 against), while, when phrased as should there be Ward only elections, if the mayor had no veto, the vote changed (11 for, 4 against).

5. At the request of Consultant Sonenshein, the committee refined a motion passed at the
January 20, 2015 meeting to now read:

The City Clerk, City Attorney, City Manager and Magistrates will be appointed by a majority vote of the Council; the City Manager will appoint all Department Directors with approval of a majority of the Council; Department Directors can be fired by the City Manager; the Police Chief and Fire Chief will be under the same category as Department Director but will have the limited Civil Service protection they currently have.

6. Consultant Sonenshein pointed out that Mayor and Council must always deal with the City Manager when problems arise. “No good city manager has a bad department head.” If there are problems, they are the responsibility of the City Manager and must be addressed by him/her or face consequences from Mayor and Council.

7. During the preliminary discussion of the Mayor/Council salary/employment topic, Consultant Sonenshein shared that only the largest cities have full-time mayor and councils. If smaller cities move to any full-time elected officials, they typically start with giving the mayor that designation while council members remain part-time. If the charter states any positions are full-time, outside employment can be a conflict of interest. Committee members voiced support for leaving the salary issue to the City’s Compensation Commission currently at work, although this topic, as well as the others listed in the first paragraph of this report, will be discussed further at the next Charter Review Committee, Thursday, February 19, 2015, 4-7 P.M. in the City Hall meeting room.

January 20, 2015

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, January 20, 2015
Compiled by Ruth Beeker and Bonnie Poulos for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee held its ninth meeting January 20, 2015, 4-7 P.M., in the City Hall meeting room. Twelve appointed members were present. More than 18 citizens and City employees came to observe some portion of the meeting; Four people participated in the call-to-the-audience.

Chairperson Nye began the meeting by guiding the group through the Summary Status of Charter Review Committee Work to Date which he had compiled. This comprehensive document covers: Charter Provisions relating to Access to Government and Transparency; Appointment and Termination of Department Directors by Manager and Oversight by Mayor and Council; and Forms of Government in which Mayor Presides at Council Meetings, Cannot Vote, but has a Veto that is Subject to Override by Council Super Majority.

Key Points:

Chairperson Nye will summarize the Committee’s work to date at the Mayor/Council Study Session on February 5, 2015.

March 2015 will be designated for public input on the tentative recommendations of the Committee. These will be publicized by various means to reach out to a broad audience who will be given various means to provide feedback.

Two public comment meetings to be held on March 10 and March 12, 5-7 P.M., one on the eastside and one on the southside, will be noticed to allow interaction between the committee and the attendees. The public comment period to the CRC will close on March 20. On Wednesday, March 25, the committee will reconvene to take into consideration that public input as it finalizes its recommendations to be sent to Mayor and Council in April.

The committee unanimously asked that staff include the need for transparency in government in a newly created preamble to the Charter.

The committee unanimously approved recommendations for the following hiring and firing policy:

        • The City attorney, clerk, magistrates, and city manager will be appointed by the majority of Mayor/Council and can be fired by a Mayor/Council super-majority (5 of 7 votes).
        • The city manager appoints department directors, including the police and fire chiefs, with the approval of the majority of Mayor/Council. They can be fired by the city manager or by a super-majority (5/7) of Mayor/Council.
        • The police and fire chiefs will serve with civil service protection. Note: at the previous meeting the CRC voted to recommend that all other department directors serve at will.

After an in-depth discussion of the ramifications of giving the Mayor the veto power, (which can only be used on ordinance issues, not hiring and firing) the committee decided to postpone further discussion and voting on mayoral veto until the Feb. 9 meeting. A vote to grant mayoral veto may impact the committee’s previous vote on mayoral parity and will shape the committee’s future discussion of adding seats on the council and how council members are elected.

The next meeting of the Charter Review Committee will be Monday, Feb. 9, 2015, City Hall meeting room, 4-7 P.M. A complete list of work yet to be done is at the end of the above Summary Status Sheet.

January 8, 2015

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, January 8, 2015
Compiled by Bonnie Poulos for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee (CRC) held its eighth meeting January 8, 2015, 4-7 P.M. in the City Hall meeting room. Nine appointed members were present. There were more than sixteen citizens and City employees who were present for a portion of the meeting. Seven people participated in the calls-to-the-audience. The agenda included a deliberation of the Goals of the CRC, a discussion of the Public Comment Period and Outreach Program, a staff presentation and in-depth discussion concerning Strengthening the Role of the Mayor and Modification of Civil Service Protections for Department Directors and/or Deputy/Assistant Directors and a committee discussion regarding Transparency, Neighborhoods and Businesses.

Key Points:

The chair provided a Summary Status of the CRC’s Work to Date. The summary includes information about the process employed and the topics that are being considered for revision, tentative recommendations adopted, issues that are still open, and an updated schedule.

The CRC Goals for Recommendations that will go to the Mayor and Council were revised (from the 11/18/14 version) with the goal of incorporating them into the preamble of the Charter (unanimous).

After some discussion, the chair asked facilitator Raphel Sonenshein and committee member Bonnie Poulos to draft a public outreach and comment program proposal for presentation and vote at the next meeting of the committee. It was agreed that the chair would update the Mayor and Council as to the committee’s progress to date.

Currently in the charter, department directors designated by ordinance are part of the Civil Service system whereas department directors designated by the charter as well as staff of the City Manager, Mayor and Council serve at will. The CRC tentatively voted to recommend the removal of civil service protection for department directors and making all department directors, with the exception of Police Chief and Fire Chief, at will appointments (unanimous).

Discussion of the mayoral veto was deferred to the next meeting (unanimous).

Transparency in government is addressed in the charter in several chapters and relates to access to government (chapter 9), record keeping and dispersal of information (chapter 10) and procurement (chapter 15). The charter also addresses government’s responsibility to Neighborhoods (promoting public health and safety) and Businesses (regulatory authority, taxing and public health). Outside the charter, these issues are also dealt with through the State’s Open Meeting Law, public records laws, Code of Ethics ordinance, rules governing disclosures of gifts, the new Office of Integrated Planning (OIP), the city’s Unified Development Code and recommendations by various committees, boards and commissions.

The next meeting of the Charter Review Committee will be Tuesday, January 20, City Hall meeting room, 4-7 P.M.

December 15, 2014

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, December 15, 2014
Compiled by Bonnie Poulos for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee held its seventh meeting December 15, 2014, 4-7 P.M., in the City Hall meeting room. Fourteen appointed members were present. Four people participated in the call-to-the-audience.

A discussion took place about the public meetings tentatively scheduled for late January and early February 2015. Committee members expressed concern about structuring the meetings for maximum public input and a working group of seven committee members agreed to work on an outreach program to present at the next meeting of the full committee in January 2015.

The inclusion of a Code of Ethics (Non-interference clause) into the City Charter was discussed at length before being recommended unanimously by the committee. A section of the City Code (Ordinance 11102) dealing with Ethics and Rules of Conduct, that passed unanimously by Mayor and Council in 2013, was recommended by the committee (see HANDOUT: Memo to CRC_Non-Interference).

Each committee member was asked to comment on the concept of a stronger mayor form of government and specifically whether the mayor should have veto power and the power to appoint department directors. After the round table, Raphael Sonenshein (RS) pointed out that there was some agreement among members about strengthening the role of the mayor and providing the city manager with tools needed to run the city in a manner that is responsive to the mayor and the council.

Points for further discussion:

        1. If mayor is granted veto power, there has to be the possibility of override by council
        2. Granting veto power means mayor will not have parity on the council
        3. Mayor should preside over council and vote to break ties
        4. Term limits for the mayor if granted veto power
        5. City Manager should be able to appoint and remove most department heads with agreement of Mayor and Council
        6. Civil service protection for department heads is not common in larger cities and varies in Arizona cities (see HANDOUT: Civil Service for Dept Heads); in Tucson 15/28 department heads have civil service protection: if department head is created by ordinance then protection, if department head is appointed by CM then serves at will (see HANDOUT: Appointment and Removal of City Officers)

The next meeting of the Charter Review Committee is Thursday, January 8, 2015, 4-7 P.M. in the City Hall meeting room. Primary topic: Department Head Civil Service Protections /Council-Mayor Salaries. Introductory Topic: Transparency/Neighborhood/Businesses.

November 20, 2014

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, November 20, 2014
Compiled by Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee held its sixth meeting November 20, 2014, 4-7 P.M., in the City Hall meeting room. Eleven appointed members were present. Eleven citizens and three council staff employees came to observe some portion of the meeting; three people participated in the call-to-the-audience. Chairperson Nye reviewed the format which he is using in setting agendas: meetings will begin with an in-depth presentation and discussion of a topic which was first introduced at the end of the previous meeting.

For this meeting, the in-depth discussion was Council Membership/Elections of City Council followed by the introductory topic, Powers and Duties of Council and Manager. Selected handouts available to attendees include the following.
National League of Cities: Municipal Elections and Powers of Council, Mayor, and Manager: Arizona Charter Cities were provided by Consultant Raphael Sonenshein (R.S.) . City Attorney Rankin provided Tucson Charter Provisions: Appointment and Removal of City Officers.

Key Points:

1. The second year after a census, wards are evaluated to insure they still have equal population. Each ward must be contiguous and compact. When redistricting is needed, it is based on precinct divisions.

2. Tucson has a unique election format for its council members. Partisan primaries are by ward; partisan general election is city-wide. This means that each ward will have representation on the Council, but the person elected for a specific ward may not be the choice of the voters in that ward. Since 1991, eight out of the 36 Council members elected in the general election lost the vote in their own ward. Five ran as Democrats, three as Republicans.

3. Data provided by the City Clerk show percentages of registered voter turnout since 2001. Primary elections, range 7.52% – 16.15% , average 12.26%
General elections, range 24.75%-40.18%, average 31.18%

4. Common Council Office budgets were established in 2005. Each current Ward budget is $328,330, the Mayor’s $455,330. That total constitutes 5.38% of the City’s General Fund.

5. Citizens’ Commission on Public Service and Compensation meets every two years to determine if a proposition should go to the voters to increase Mayor and Council salaries. The last proposition which passed was in 1999; propositions failed in 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007. The 2013 Commission wrote, “The Commission believes City Charter changes that strengthen the Mayor and Council should be considered to provide the structure to support future increases.” The Charter Committee can make recommendations for salary increases without going to the Commission.

6. R.S. provided the committee a National League of Cities study (2001) documenting municipalities’ use of the three variations for constituency representation: at-large (entire city), district/ward, and mixed system/hybrid. Larger cities, population 200,000 and up, tend to mixed system 38.2% and district 45.5%

7. R.S. shared that political scientists do not agree on which variation is best. At-large representation is thought to be more impartial and to attract to better candidates; district representation is thought to be more inclusive of racial minorities and to be more responsive to neighborhood issues. (City of Tucson has neither; see No. 2 above.)

8. When Committee members each shared their current thoughts about Tucson’s Council representation, it was evident there was no consensus. Impacting their thoughts were the strength of the mayor, annexation, minority and neighborhood representation, recognition that Tucson does have a hybrid, lack of Republican representatives, increase of independent voters, balance between city-wide and ward problem-solving, budgetary concerns, accountability, and number of constituents per ward.

9. In preparation for the Dec. 15 discussion of Powers and Duties of Council and Manager, the City Attorney provided the information sheet, Tucson Charter Process: Appointments and Removal of City Officers. Noteworthy is the discrepancy between the Mayor’s role in appointments vs. removal and the lack of uniformity in policy among the regulations for city officers. R.S. opined that it is unusual for a City Charter to have such complexity.

10. The attorney clarified the role of city magistrates. They hear cases which go to City Court, such as misdemeanors within the City, parking and other civil infractions of codes (such as red tags). Only those magistrates who hear criminal cases must be attorneys.

11. R.S. provided the Committee Powers of Council, Mayor and Manager: Arizona Charter Cities. On this sheet, “council” includes the mayor. Any appointment not addressed would be the city manager’s.

12. R.S. strongly urged the Committee to add a Noninterference Clause to the Charter as 16 out of 18 other Arizona cities do. This establishes a boundary between Mayor/Council and the City Manager. (The City Council recently passed a code of conduct which codified the principle of noninterference in the administrative role of the city manager, but it is not in the Charter.)

The next meeting of the Charter Review Committee is Monday, December 15, 2014, 4-7 P.M. in the City Hall meeting room. Primary topic: Powers and Duties of Council and the Manager. Introductory Topic: Department Head Civil Service Protections/Council-Mayor Salaries.

November 10, 2014

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, November 10, 2014
Compiled by Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee held its fifth meeting November 10, 2014, 4-7 P.M., in the City Hall meeting room. Fourteen appointed members were present. Three citizens and two council staff employees came to observe; one person participated in the call-to-the-audience. Chairperson Nye shared the format which he is using in setting agendas: meetings will begin with an in-depth presentation and discussion of a topic which was first introduced at the end of the previous meeting.

For this meeting, the in-depth discussion was on Taxing and Bonding followed by the introductory topic, Council Membership and Election. Consultant Raphael Sonenshein (R.S.) provided “Characteristics of Selected City Councils” and Attorney Michael Rankin summarized the “Tucson Charter Provisions – Mayor and Council Membership and Elections”:   Compare Councils 5mb  and  Membership Elections 6mb.

Key Points:

1. The staff presentation on Current Charter Taxing and Bonding Limitations addressed three topics: property tax, sales tax and financing of bonds.

2. The City of Tucson (COT) levies two types of property taxes: the primary which goes into the general fund for maintenance, operations and tort; and the secondary which can only be used to pay off voter approved bonds. The City Charter combines both types under one cap of $1.75 per one hundred dollars of assessed value. No other Arizona city combines these. Phoenix, for example, only caps its primary tax.

3. The State regulates the amount of property tax which can be assessed, and, at this time, it is less restrictive than COT’s cap. The state also limits the primary property tax revenue to a growth of 2% per year plus new construction and assessment for qualifying tort liability and the secondary property tax revenues to the amount necessary to pay debt service plus an allowance for uncollectible taxes.

4. The committee tentatively approved a motion to remove the cap on the secondary property tax revenue because it already is limited to paying debt service on bonds which were voter approved. This would have the effect of allowing COT to ask voters for additional bonding for projects such as road improvements.

5. Sales taxes provide the largest share of COT’s budget. Tucson collects its own taxes, rather than having the AZ Department of Revenue do so. The COT Charter caps sales taxes at 2%, except for utilities which can be higher. Any tax on Food for Home Consumption is prohibited. There was no discussion to change these Charter features or to add areas for taxation, although it may be revisited at a later time.

6. The possibility of raising the 2% cap on construction sales tax, with the revenues generated by any increase to be dedicated to providing the public infrastructure otherwise funded by impact fees—and in turn, requiring impact fees to be reduced or eliminated by an equivalent amount, an idea which Mayor and Council had suggested be considered, was mentioned. However, since no one was present to represent the development community, discussion of the concept was very limited.

7. COT’s ability to finance bonds in the most economical manner is thwarted by a Charter provision which prohibits COT from pledging any city revenues to secure the payment of bonds. (This means that COT purchases are now subject to an annual appropriation by Mayor and Council.) COT therefore relies on mechanisms like Certificates of Participation which can be more costly and less flexible than excise tax bonds or notes. Using the latter could reduce interest rates by .5%. The committee tentatively approved a motion for the removal of the Charter sentence which prohibits the city from a “pledge” of tax revenue when financing bonds.

8. When changing the focus to next meeting’s main topic, Council Membership and Elections, the committee brought up various topics: redistricting, campaign financing, district vs. at large representation, partisan vs. non-partisan elections, past attempts to raise salaries and staggered terms.

9. R.S. shared that there is no answer to the continuing debate whether district or at large elections result in better representation. At large may result in council members taking a larger view but neighborhoods may feel that no one is representing them. Committee members indicated they were interested in learning more about hybrid councils—a combination of members elected by ward and additional members at large.

10. Cities with stronger mayors compensate with larger councils, most likely elected by district. Arizona charter cities typically have six council members elected by district and a mayor. R.S. expressed his opinion that changing the number of council members is a really major charter change.

11. The City clerk shared that staggered elections every two years do not cost more than having one election every four years. R.S. opined that staggered terms have the advantage of being less vulnerable to a mobilized group gaining power.

The next Charter Review Committee will be Thursday, November 20, 2014, 4:00-7:00 P.M. at the Mayor and Council Chambers. The main continuing topic will be Council Membership and Elections; the introductory topic will be Civil Service Protection. Anyone wishing to give input to the committee is invited to send an e-mail to  or to come to the call-to-the-audience.

October 22, 2014

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, October 22, 2014
Compiled by Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee held its fourth meeting October 22, 2014, 4-7 P.M. in the City Hall meeting room. Ten of the 14 appointed members were present. Over a dozen citizens and staff came to observe; two people participated in the call-to-the-audience. Two handouts available to attendees are here: Selected Comparison Cities: Stronger Mayor and Tucson Charter Provisions-Taxing Authority And Related Provisions.

Key Points

1. Agenda item, “Discussion of Goals for End Product/Problems We Are Trying to Solve,” gave members the opportunity to voice their priorities: clarify the roles of mayor, council, city manager and department heads to achieve accountability; put a system in place to attract highly qualified people to run for office; strengthen city’s capacity to finance public improvements; encourage participation for an engaged community; build flexibility into the charter so it can be useful for a long period of time; organize the document for ease of use; reevaluate City election procedures.

2. Consultant R. Sonenshein (RS) suggested the committee might consider adding a preamble to the charter to address the City’s mission/vision/character.

3. RS pointed out that a successful city needs to address both who is in control of the city and what the structure is for professional staff. He observed that our present charter has no recognition of boundaries between elected officials and staff.

4. The handout, Selected Comparison Cities: Stronger Mayor, was prepared in response to the Committee’s request at the Oct. 6 meeting to learn what stronger mayor forms of government look like. RS suggested that Long Beach was the city listed there which was most comparable to Tucson, and he noted there is variability in the way individual cities address specific functions. In all cases, however, the mayor is full-time and has veto power. RS noted that for a well-functioning government, veto power works best when used infrequently and is accompanied by a 2/3’s override by council.

In the majority of listed cities with stronger mayors, the mayor has the primary role in appointing/removing department heads but does not serve on the council. If the mayor does not serve on the council, the council elects a president; that person may rival the mayor for power in the city.

5. All of the seven Western cities used for comparison had more than six council members; none follows Tucson’s model of primaries by district, general election citywide. Most elect their 7-11 member councils by district, although Seattle has two and Colorado Spring three additionally elected “at large.” “At large” members are often included in a charter as a compromise between forming more districts and having more representation of the public.

“At large” council members may think more like a mayor and may be more likely to choose to run for mayor in the future. As the mayor gets stronger, there is the potential for more conflict between mayor and council. Only two cities, Seattle and El Paso have full-time council; the rest have part time council members.

6. RS’s generalization: As a city enhances the mayor’s role, it may add council members to provide greater district representation.

7. In the stronger mayor form of government as practiced in the seven cities listed, there is no set policy for who takes responsibility for the appointment/removal of city manager or department heads, although in 9 out of 14 cases, it is the mayor who initiates the action, most often with council approval.

8. The committee voted to not make any decision about the desired power for the mayor at this time. It did have a lot to continue to think about. RS shared that strong mayors are good for big projects, therefore developers like that model; that bigger cities more often use the stronger mayor model, but Tucson is on the cusp of that population divide; that it may be hard for council members to adapt when a mayor is given more power.

9. A key question is: To whom is a City of Tucson department head responsible? Council? Mayor? City Manager? The answer could be important in finding a quality candidate to fill the vacant City Manager position. The question of civil service protections, to be looked at by the committee during this review process, certainly bears on this. Is a department head’s hiring and removal the function of a professional (the city manager) or politicians (mayor and/or council)? Finding a solution to No. 3 above is very relevant here. At this time, the City of Tucson has no uniformity in practice; different leadership positions are governed by different policies.

10. The handout Tucson Charter Provisions-Taxing Authority And Related Provisions was given to committee members as a first step for them to begin familiarizing themselves on this complex topic. The committee may want to address three different issues: provide more flexibility in the charter for the City to use bonds instead of Certificates of Participation; consider sales tax on construction materials as an alternative to impact fees; and raise the present cap on the combined primary and secondary property tax which is more restrictive than state law.

The next meeting of the Charter Review Committee will be Monday, November 10, 2014, 4-7 P.M, at the City Hall meeting room. Finance issues will be one topic on the agenda. Anyone wishing to give input to the committee is invited to send an e-mail to or to come to the call-to-the-audience.

October 6, 2014

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, October 6, 2014
Compiled by Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee held its third meeting October 6, 2014, 4-7 P.M., in the City Council meeting room. Thirteen of the 14 appointed members were present. Over 20 citizens came to observe; six people participated in the call-to-the-audience. Two handouts were available to attendees. One lists the groupings of topics which the committee identified on Sept. 15 for review consideration; the other, provided by consultant Raphael Sonenshein, shows a continuum of Forms of Local Government based on the power of the mayor. (Handouts: Topics for Review and Forms of Local Government)

Key Points:

Four committee members nominated themselves to be chair: Randi Dorman, Kasey Nye, Tom Prezelski and Diana Rhoades. Each shared a short personal bio. It was decided the individual getting the most voice votes would be chair, the second vice-chair. Kasey Nye was elected chair, Diana Rhoades vice-chair.

R. Sonenshein explained the Forms of Local Government continuum, pointing out that he felt Tucson was 90% close to “Council-manager system with elected mayor” (the 2nd weakest mayoral form also used in other AZ cities: Phoenix, Glendale, Tempe and Scottsdale).

After extensive, broad-based discussion, the committee voted to tentatively recommend the mayor be given additional power during Mayor-Council meetings: to be counted as part of the quorum and to have equal voting rights on all matters which Council members now have. This change would put COT 100% into the second category.

All votes on recommended changes to the charter will be accumulated, but considered tentative, up to the final determinations next spring.

While there was a general feel that the committee would not support either of the forms of local government at the ends of the continuum, it was decided that it was premature to take them off the table at this time. R. Sonenshein was asked to bring more information about the third and fourth options to the next meeting.

Themes which emerged during the deliberations:

        • Identifying what problems currently exist is crucial, then recommending changes to improve them. Getting input from the community, particularly the organized groups, is crucial to identifying these problems.
        • Lack of trust in COT is a primary problem. R. Sonenshein observed that he heard three common threads: responsiveness, accountability , responsibility. These needs can be addressed in a charter. He opined that allocating responsibility is key to building trust. Who is held accountable? Whose role do you strengthen, the mayor or the council/city manager? There may be fear in the community of giving too much power to any party; however, the result is that no one is in charge.
        • The general public sees their council person as the go-to person for problem solving.
        • Politics will be a factor in any distribution of power.

Dates for up-coming meetings, all in the City Hall meeting room unless noted. All meetings 4-7 P.M.

        • October—Wed., Oct. 22
        • November—Mon., Nov. 10 and Thurs., Nov. 20 (M/C Chambers)
        • December—Mon., Dec. 15
        • January—Thurs., Jan. 8 and Tues., Jan. 20
        • February—Mon., Feb. 9 and Thurs., Feb. 19

At the Oct. 22 meeting, the committee will continue its discussion of administration topics (No. 1 on the Topics for Review.)

September 15, 2014

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting
– Compiled by Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The COT Charter Review Committee held its second meeting September 15, 2015, 4-6:30 P.M. at Mayor/Council Chambers. City Clerk Roger Randolph chaired the meeting. All appointed committee members, City clerk staff, City Attorney Michael Rankin and advisor Raphael Sonenshein were present.

Key points:

There are two styles of charters: long form and short form. Tucson’s is primarily the old-fashioned long style which enumerated operating policies of that period in great detail. A few more recently added chapters are the more modern short style which is conceptual. The committee was advised to look most critically at the older enumerated chapters with the intent to update them by remove outdated details and substituting concepts which would be relevant for years.

Action was taken instructing staff to modernize the final draft through gender neutrality, updated content and concepts (ex. Library now in County, different job titles, $ for fines, technology use), accurate cross-referencing, reconciliation to state law where desired.

After compiling a long list of issues, members grouped them into five major working topics:

        • Form of Government (Council/Manager vs. Mayoral; salary; manager role, etc.)
        • Election (Non-partisan; ward only for general election, etc.)
        • Administration (Civil Service protections of management; manager/department head roles and evaluation, etc.)
        • Access to Government (Role of neighborhoods; public transparency, technology updates; responsibility for arts, natural environment; supporting business, etc.)
        • Taxation Authority (Property tax; sales tax, etc.)

Staff reminded the committee that Mayor/Council had specifically asked that the Committee review taxation authority and Civil Service coverage. Each major topic will be considered separately. Some may take more than one meeting to conclude whether to recommend changes to Mayor/Council, and, if so, exactly what they should be. Some discussions may result in no changes being recommended.

Committee members continued to be interested in seeing what other cities have in their charters. All Arizona charter cities currently have the Council/Manager model.

A revision to scheduling meetings was proposed. The committee was advised to make a projected long-term schedule at its next meeting. Predictability of meeting times could be helpful to the public awareness and participation. Two 10 minute call-to-the-audience opportunities were included in this agenda, one near the beginning of the meeting and one later. Two people took advantage of it.

The next meeting of the Charter Review Committee will be Monday, October 6, 2014, 2014, 4:00-7:00 P.M. in City Hall First Floor Conference Room. During that meeting, the group will begin deliberations on charter recommendations on Form of Government and elect its chair and vice chair.

August 14, 2014

First Charter Review Committee Meeting

August 3, 2014

TRRG is monitoring the City of Tucson’s Charter change process and taking an educational role in assisting residents to understand the issues prior to items appearing on the ballot. TRRG Vice Chairperson Bonnie Poulos is a member of the Charter Review Committee.