City Charter Review Committee 2016

March 7, 2016

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, March 7, 2016
Compiled by Ruth Beeker and Bonnie Poulos for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee (CRC) held its sixth meeting March 7, 2016. Thirteen members were present for some part of the meeting; 8 observers attended; 2 persons spoke at the call-to-the-audience. Chair Bonnie Poulos conducted the meeting. Consultant Raphael Sonenshein (RS) was present.

Key Points:

  1. The goal of the meeting was to narrow the options of what the committee’s recommendations to Mayor and Council (M/C) might be on both its assigned topics: form of City elections and taxing proposals.
  2. Consultant RS presented a revised comparison sheet here of the 4 options: Current System, All District, Hybrid (District + 2 At-Large), and At-Large. He again suggested that the Committee keep its recommendations simple. Possible topics to send M/C for further consideration in the future were: moving elections dates to even numbered years; detailed cost of field office/constituent services centers; and best formula for aligning mayor, district, and at- large election rotation.
  3. Committee members were each asked to share their first and second choices of the 4 options listed above. The results: hybrid=9 mentions; current system=8 mentions; all district=5 mentions, at-large=0 mentions. After continued discussion, the committee took 2 straw votes on these statements: “If the City of Tucson (COT) cannot retain its current form of election, it should go to some form which includes district representation” and “It is to COT’s advantage to elect the entire M/C at one time.” Both received unanimous support. The ultimate conclusion was that the current system, in spite of its dubious legal status, would remain under consideration and the group needed to pick a second option from Hybrid and All District.
  4. Discussion about the ramification of selecting either Hybrid or All District included the following points:
    1. Hybrid — a compromise more like our current system; support from leaders in the community; public would need to understand why the need to expand Council from 6 to 8; regardless of facts, the perception would be it would cost more in these tough budget times; more complicated.
    2. All-District — need to refer to it as “all Ward” in Tucson; simple to understand; to be fair, all of M/C would need to run for election on the same ballot, raising the issue of institutional memory; whom would elected officials feel they were accountable to; most used system elsewhere.

    The chair asked that all members talk with others in the community to gain additional input before resolving this issue at the next meeting.

  1. The Committee then revisited the options of how to provide more flexibility to raise the sales tax. There was divided sentiment around the issue of whether there should be a cap at all on the sales tax and around the issue of whether the voters should be consulted about an increase in the sales tax (that is above the specified cap). There was no clear consensus among committee members on this issue with some arguing for no cap and no vote and others arguing for the existing cap with a mechanism for increasing it with voter approval. In preparation for the next meeting, members were asked to consider what motion they could support with regard to a recommendation on the sales tax.

The next meeting of the CRC will be Monday, March 21, 2016 in the City Hall Meeting Room, 4:30-7:00 PM. Members agreed that they would be prepared to stay as long as necessary to agree upon their recommendations to forward to M/C at the conclusion of that meeting.

February 22, 2016

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, February 22, 2016
Compiled by Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee (CRC) held its fifth meeting February 23, 2016. Twelve members were present; 12 observers, City officials, and City staff also attended; 1 person spoke twice at the call-to-the-audience. Chair Bonnie Poulos conducted the meeting. Consultant Raphael Sonenshein (RS) was present.

Key Points:

1. Mayor Rothschild brought the results of a poll of 500 Tucson voters conducted by telephone on the two issues currently being addressed by the CRC: tax increase options and alternative election systems. (COT Poll Results)

Primary poll findings:

  • few are eager for more taxation, but support increases when money raised is committed for a specific use — road repair being the top priority;
  • there is no clear preference for election format,
    • with 36% favoring city-wide election of council members
    • 26% favoring district (ward) only
    • 16% prefer keeping our present hybrid system of ward primaries and citywide general elections
    • and 23% are not sure;
  • and people want to keep candidates’ political party presented on the ballot (72%).

The Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC), who paid for the poll, also shared with CRC a document it prepared, “City council election methods—strengths and weaknesses.” (SALC_Election Methods)

2. Consultant RS had also prepared a comparison sheet, “Comparing Election Systems,” of the three options left after the Feb. 8 meeting: Current System, All District, and Hybrid: District + 2 At-large. (Comparing Election Systems) He compiled his comparisons based on five assumptions he had heard in previous CRC discussions:

  • Cost is a factor. What savings can be projected to make any of the choices reasonable on a cost basis?
  • External factors may influence outcomes: court decisions, ballot measures such as requirement for “jungle” primary where all candidates run in the same primary regardless of party affiliation.
  • Minimal change to the current system would be preferable
  • Goals are governing effectiveness and responsiveness to the community
  • Ways to increase voter participation should be considered.

3. Given the quantity of new information to digest, the remainder of the meeting was devoted to discussion of the election system topic. Special attention was given to: How would use of Clean Election monies in District only elections be affected? What impact does the election system really have on successful annexation efforts? What voting methods affect voter turn-out? None of the topics had clear-cut answers.

4. RS was asked to bring back information on how the Hybrid District + 2 At Large could be better than just District. Chair Poulos gave everyone homework assignments. Members were asked to review all the materials given in order to visualize what each option would look like and to be ready to give their choices and rationale at the beginning of the next meeting.

5. When Mayor/Council reconstituted the CRC, they set an April 1, 2016 deadline for the CRC to provide them recommendations. The majority of the CRC voted to not ask for more time.

The next meeting of the CRC will be Monday, March 7, 2016 in the City Hall 1st floor Conference Room, 4:30-7:00 PM.

(Charter Review Committee member names, past meeting minutes, legal action reports and transcriptions of meeting content are available here.)

February 8, 2016

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, February 8, 2016
Compiled by Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee (CRC) held its fourth meeting February 8, 2016. The meeting was rescheduled from February 1 to enable Consultant Raphael Sonenshein (RS) to be present. The change of meeting date created a unique problem for the group: there was no quorum present at 4:30. By 5:00, enough members came to begin the meeting. In all, 11 members were present; 5 observers attended; 2 people spoke at the call-to-the-audience. Vice-chair Randi Dorman conducted the meeting in the absence of Chair Bonnie Poulos.

Key Points:

1. Raphael Sonenshein (RS) provided members a chart, Choices in Council Structure. (See attached.) It shows District Election and At-large Election as the opposing ends of a continuum, with 4 Hybrids used by specific cities between. The primary difference of the Hybrids, except for the Tucson system, is the number of at-large council members elected to augment those elected by district. In all cases, the district-elected are the majority.

2. RS discussed ramifications of each end of the continuum. District elections mean council members are more focused on their own ward; therefore, the mayor and/or at-large council members must be more powerful in attending to city-wide concerns. At-large election means all council members and mayor are now focused on city-wide concerns; therefore, there needs to be an enhanced neighborhood participation structure (something akin to the Neighborhood Ward Office) to address citizen district-area concerns.

3. The Hybrids attempt to mitigate these extremes by having more than the mayor elected city-wide. RS shared that these council persons elected city-wide often become more powerful and political than the district representatives.

4. RS emphasized that the bottom line is having a Council structure which provides a government which is perceived as most responsive in providing the best service to its citizens.

5. At this time, larger cities most often have district representation. RS suggested a district for every 100,000 citizens is ideal. (Tucson with 6 wards for its 500,000+ population meets this standard.) The current trend is toward hybrid models, adding one or more at-large members to the council’s district representatives.

6. RS asked the committee to cut the options back to a few so that he could provide in-depth information about them at the next meeting. In response, the committee members gave their preliminary opinions: Hybrid and District predominated. Several members expressed support for what Tucson now has: a unique Hybrid where there are district elections in the primary (ensuring each ward has representation) and at-large voting in the general election. Members not in attendance will be asked to share their opinions at the beginning of the next meeting.

7. Members asked the City Clerk to provide information about costs associated with alternative election cycles and addition of Council members. It was noted that holding City elections every 4 years as part of the US presidential cycle might result in higher turn-out, but the fact that the City elections must be at the end of the ballot could result in voter fatigue before getting to the City topics.

8. Vice-chair Dorman asked that topics identified in a handout as Related Issues, distributed at the January 25, 2016 meeting, be part of the next meeting’s agenda also.

9. RS will be providing comparisons of District-only and Hybrid models on the following variables: number of members; election dates and rotation; changes, if any, to neighborhood structures or management roles; and change, if any, to campaign finance system.

10. Members expressed concerns about how/when they will get input from the public. RS suggested they take one (or no more than 2) models to public meetings, asking for attendees to critique the choices based on which they feel would result in the best citizen representation in City Hall. Members wondered if there was flexibility in the April 1 deadline set by Mayor and Council.

CRC will meet Monday, February 22, 2016 at 4:30 in the City Hall 1st Floor Conference Room. Vice-chair Dorman asked that members contact the City Clerk’s Office if they cannot attend or need the time set back to 5:00 so that there will be no quorum problems in the future. Members asked that an update on City input on financial issues be put on the agenda as well as the continued discussion of election structure.

January 25, 2016

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, January 25, 2016
Compiled by Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee (CRC) held its fourth meeting January 25, 2016. Thirteen members were present. Seven observers and staff attended; three people spoke at the call-to-the-audience. Consultant Raphael Sonenshein was present.

Key Points:

1. CRC continued is discussion of how best to give Mayor/Council (M/C) the option to propose raising the sales tax. Should the 2% charter cap be removed or raised? If raised, by how much? Is it redundant to have both a cap and the stipulation that voters must approve any proposed increase? City Attorney Rankin shared that it is highly unusual for any AZ municipality to require both. He also reminded them of an option from last fall: keep the cap but allow voters to increase sales taxes above the cap.

It was ultimately decided to wait until the results of the polling authorized by M/C to gauge voter sentiment about means to increase City revenue are completed. Staff predicted that would be available by March. CRC will revisit this issue at that time.

2. Consultant Sonenshein had no perfect solution to recommend when he presented information about election structure. Both district (ward) elections and at-large elections present different complexities and challenges.

As a rule, larger municipalities have district elections. This option provides minority populations in concentrated areas and disparate neighborhoods to elect their own Council member. Council elections are cheaper; the elected representative knows the unique needs of the district; territorial advocacy can, however, lead to conflict and provincialism. The Mayor becomes stronger since s/he is the only member of M/C chosen by the entire electorate. That influence may result in more big projects being approved. A stronger mayor, however, means the Council needs veto power to retain checks and balances. This leads to a need for an odd number of wards to assure Council votes attain a majority (not ties).

At-large elections are often found in smaller communities with dispersed population. Since candidates must campaign throughout the city, costs are higher; they may, however, feel a greater responsibility to the entire population in their decision-making. Research indicates that women have a greater chance to be elected in at-large elections. The Mayor is part of the team since all are elected city-wide; therefore, there is no need for a Council veto.

Given that neither district nor at-large systems are perfect, some municipalities have chosen a hybrid. The city is divided into districts from which a council member is elected. Those district representatives are joined on the Council by additional at-large elected representatives. It is assumed that the at-large members will advocate for the “big picture” which may get neglected if all are, first and foremost, advocates for their separate districts. This hybrid has been used in Boston for years, and recently was adopted in Detroit and cities in the state of Washington, including Seattle.

3. CRC members asked Mr. Sonenshein about general information topics and learned:

  • when cities grow over 150,000-200,000, neighborhoods tend to feel neglected. If there is no district voting, there needs to be neighborhood councils, etc, to fill that void.
  • election structure will not change voter turnout; district elections can result in a small group of people having lots of influence in that area; neither system protects against extremists being elected.
  • non-partisan elections result in lower voter turn-out, particularly among working class, minority, less educated voters who see D or R as informative to them.
  • variables that influence larger voter turn-out include: presidential election year; ease of registration; alternatives to going to the polls on Tuesday, such as early voting, weekend/Sunday voting, mail-in ballots; direct contact with voters by telephone or door-to-door contact; ballots that are easy to understand.

4. Answers more specific to Tucson Charter recommendations included:

  • a ballot proposition should recommend one structure, so that the result of the vote is YES or NO (change to this or keep what we have).
  • the committee must look for the new problems created by any new option
  • staggered selection of council members in district elections is a concern when Mayor is also on the ballot. Will the entire city turn out when they can only vote for the Mayor or will the vote be skewed by those also electing a council person? (Currently COT’s voter city-wide turn-out is almost double when the mayor is on the ballot.)
  • think about election structure as an issue disconnected from whoever is in office now

5. CRC members agreed to meet the following Mondays: Feb 1, Feb. 22, Mar. 7, and Mar. 21.

Next meeting: originally scheduled for February 1, 2016 but changed after the meeting to February 8, 2016, 4:30 – 7:00 P.M. City Hall, First floor conference room. On the agenda: Continuing discussion with Raphael Sonenshein about the top issues the CRC will address relating to Tucson’s electoral process.

January 11, 2016

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, January 11, 2016
Compiled by Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee (CRC), reconstituted by Mayor and Council, held its third meeting January 11, 2016. Twelve members were present, seven observers attended and two persons spoke at Call-to-the-Audience. The meeting was initially presided over by Vice-chair Randi Dorman until Chair Bonnie Poulos arrived. Consultant Raphael Sonenshein was not present; City Attorney Mike Rankin reported he will be able to attend two meetings per month on Mondays starting later this month.

Key Points:

1. Silvia Amparano, Finance Director, made a presentation and answered questions on Current and Proposed Charter Taxing and Bonding Limitations (CRC Financing Options Report) . She shared that the current financial situation is unsustainable. A $42 million deficit in 2016/17 would grow to a $63 million deficit in 2019/20 if nothing changes. The City Manager’s goal is to achieve operational structural balance by 2017/18 budget and structural balance with capital by 2019/20 budget. At the present time, 40% of the general fund comes from sales tax, 19% from state-shared revenues.

2. After looking at options and reviewing the recommendations the Committee made in 2015, this Charter Review Committee voted unanimously to reconfirm support for the language sent to Mayor/Council last spring on Pledging of Excise Taxes and Cap on Primary and Secondary Property Tax. (See January 4 report, Key Point 2, below, for text.) These recommendations are tentative until revisited at the conclusion of the committee’s work.

3. How to address Cap on Sales Tax was not resolved. Five options for Charter amendment on Sales Tax were considered:

  • Leave as is (Charter cap is 2% and restricts sales tax on food for home consumption);
  • Authorize Mayor and Council to propose to voters a business transaction tax (sales tax) that exceeds 2%;
  • Leave as is unless voters approve an increase higher than 2%;
  • Keep a percentage cap but set at higher rate; take the cap off all together.
  • The only option which was totally eliminated was “leave as is.”

Exactly how to increase Mayor/Council authority to raise sales tax, given that Tucson has this unique municipal provision of a cap in its charter, was discussed in depth. Members agreed to think through the issues and study the comparative data from other AZ municipalities before making a decision. Questions to consider:

  • Should there be a revised cap in the charter?
  • If so, how much should it be raised?
  • Or, should the cap be removed from the charter?
  • Should voters have to approve any sales tax adjustments?

4. Chairperson Poulos introduced the Electoral Process by providing a summary of related issues generated from last year’s discussion (CRC Electoral Process Options). Shifting to a different format for primary and general elections does have related ramifications and opportunities to restructure other aspects of the process. Members asked that Consultant Sonenshein provide them a broader knowledge of the issues, such as:

  • What are the current trends?
  • What are the trade-offs?
  • What is weighted formula voting?
  • What is proportional voting?
  • Should campaign financing be changed?

The next meeting will be Monday, January 25, 2016, 4:30-7:00 P. M., First Floor Meeting Room in City Hall. Continuing discussion and action will be taken to make recommendations on Cap on Sales Tax; the informational topic will be Council Election Format.

January 4, 2016

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, January 4, 2016
Compiled by Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee (CRC), reconstituted by Mayor and Council, held its second meeting January 4, 2016. Twelve members were present. 8 observers attended; 2 persons spoke at Call-to-the-Audience. The meeting was initially chaired by City Clerk Roger Randolph. Consultant Raphe Sonenshein was not present; City Attorney Mike Rankin reported that his contract was currently being negotiated.

Key Points:

1. The Committee elected Bonnie Poulos chair, Randi Dorman vice-chair.

2. City Attorney Rankin reviewed the content of the three Financial Charter Recommendations submitted to Mayor and Council at the conclusion of the 2015 Charter Review Committee’s deliberations. The three recommendations and reasoning for submitting them were as follows:

  • A. Amend Chapter IV § 1 (16) (a) to delete the prohibition on pledging excise taxes. The 2015 CRC recommended deleting the prohibition to use certain kinds of tax revenue to pay off bonds because it would grant the city greater flexibility to obtain cost-effective funding for projects. Tucson is the only Arizona city with a Charter that prevents it from using sales tax revenues to secure repayment of bonds. As a result, the city is forced to use relatively complex and expensive bond structures called “certificates of participation” to obtain loans.The CRC could not identify any good reason to retain this provision and it was felt that removal of this prohibition would provide more flexible funding options and result in lower interest rates and other charges. The CRC did not feel that the current provision provided any meaningful protection to taxpayers or the City’s General Fund. Additionally, removal of the provision would not increase taxes or make new taxes more likely, but it would allow the City to obtain financing on more favorable terms.
  • B. Amend Chapter IV § 2 to 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 increase to the secondary property tax on the ballot in a general election. The 2015 CRC reasoned that the current cap on secondary property taxes prevents the City from even asking voters to consider capital projects that could improve Tucson’s infrastructure, neighborhoods and economy. Tucson is the only jurisdiction in Arizona that applies a cap to both the primary and secondary property taxes. State law already prohibits cities from increasing the primary tax by more than 2% per year, which makes it impossible for the City to make substantial increases to the primary property tax. In addition, secondary property taxes must be used to repay bonds that are only issued with prior voter approval, meaning that no increase in the secondary property tax can occur without voter approval to do so.
  • C. Amend Chaper IV § 2 to authorize Mayor and Council to impose a transaction privilege tax that exceeds 2%, but only if such additional sales tax could only become effective after it is placed on the ballot and approved by a majority of voters at the next general election. The Charter currently places a cap of 2% on sales taxes in the city. Public comment during the charter review process indicated support for removing this cap to allow the city to generate revenue for a variety of uses.The CRC recommendation sought to dispense with the need to amend the City’s Charter prior to any request for a sales tax increase, but to protect taxpayers by requiring that any increase in the sales tax be approved by a majority of voters in a City General Election. It was felt that the amount of sales tax levied should be a policy question, not a constitutional issue and that by requiring voter approval for any sales tax increase, an appropriate checks and balances was achieved.

After a wide-ranging discussion, the Committee voted unanimously to ask staff to do the following: give an in-depth presentation on A and B as review for continuing members and information for new members before moving those two recommendations once again to Mayor and Council, which were unanimous votes in 2015; and, to revisit C for new consideration, since it had passed by a 9-5 vote in 2015.

3. The 2016 Committee unanimously reaffirmed the 2015 Committee’s Goals for Recommendations to Mayor and Council.

4. Attorney Rankin shared that the State of Washington has joined Tucson in the City’s appeal of the 9th Circuit’s determination that Tucson’s present primary/general election practice is illegal. He is uncertain how or when this appeal will play out. Various conjectures were shared; his opinion was that the present determination seems to favor having both the primary and general election be at large.

5. Continuing committee members recalled a variety of topics included when discussing election policy in 2015. Chairperson Poulos suggested that she and Vice-Chair Dorman compile these so that new members get common background information on which to base new discussions.

6. Future meetings will be held 4:30-7:00 P.M., no more than 3 times/month, on Mondays, if possible. The City Clerk’s Office will coordinate room availability with Consultant Sonenheim’s availability to provide the Committee possible future meeting date options.

Next meeting: Monday, January 11, 2016, 4:30 P. M., City Hall Mayor/Council Chambers.

December 14, 2015

Report on City of Tucson Charter Review Committee Meeting, December 14, 2015
Compiled by Ruth Beeker for TRRG

The Charter Review Committee (CRC), reconstituted by Mayor and Council, held its organizational meeting December 14, 2015. Nine members (6 continuing and 3 new appointees) were present; 4 observers attended; 1 person spoke at Call-to-the-Audience. The meeting was chaired by City Clerk Roger Randolph.

Key Points:

  1. Mayor and Council (M/C) have asked the Committee to address two topics: city finances and the electoral system.
  2. The earlier CRC had submitted three specific city finance proposals to M/C in April. M/C chose not to put them on the Nov. 2015 ballot. CRC will now begin by reviewing those past recommendations. Members expressed hope to better understand the concepts and to work toward wording which would have the best chance for passage in an election.
  3. City of Tucson’s electoral system was discussed at length in the original CRC with no consensus reached. The topic has become more complex given the recent actions taken by “ward only” proponents in the courts and in their current collection of signatures to put an initiative on the ballot. City Attorney Michael Rankin will keep the CRC apprised of these actions. He shared his understanding that M/C wants the CRC to keep its options open in its deliberations.
  4. CRC unanimously voted to delay its election of chairperson and vice chairperson until a later date.
  5. CRC’s work deadline is April 1, 2016, in order that its recommendations get to M/C for election consideration. Propositions could go on the August or November 2016 ballots.
  6. Organizational decisions included: schedule meeting times when Raphael Sonenshein, consultant, can be present; hold meetings in the City Hall Meeting Room (First Floor); meet on Mondays; schedule two Call-to-the-Audience opportunities; start meetings at 4:00 P.M.; staff to provide new members with knowledge base needed to have same background as continuing members.

Next meeting: Monday, January 4, 2016, 4:00 P. M., City Hall Meeting Room (First Floor).

Mr. Sonenshein will be asked to assist members in setting a timeline to address the two identified topics over the next four months.