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Research: Most cities have initiatives, referendums

November 23, 2010

Big Spring City Attorney Linda Sjogren.

As city officials continue efforts to bring revisions to the municipality's charter to local voters in May, many area residents may be asking themselves with one very important question: what are initiatives and referendums?

Brought to the Big Spring City Council by newly-elected Mayor Tommy Duncan, the city staff has been asked to research the possible use of term limits, initiatives and referendums in the Crossroads area.
The term limits would prevent elected council members and mayors from serving more than two consecutive terms in office, according to preliminary plans set forth by Duncan.

“What I'd like to see is a term limit imposed on the mayor starting this past May, and term limits imposed on the council members the next election after that charter amendment. That way every council member sitting on the council now will have a full two-term opportunity to serve. After a council person or a mayor serves two terms, if they sit out two terms they will be eligible to run again and serve two more terms.”

While the idea of term limits may seem fairly simple, initiatives and referendums are a bit more complicated, according to City Attorney Linda Sjogren.

“Terrell Blodgett, who wrote a great deal on Texas charters, does the best job of explaining what initiatives and referendums are that I'm aware of,” Sjogren said. “The three items Mayor Duncan asked us to research — term limits, initiatives and referendums — have more or less become synonymous over the years.”

According to Sjogren, adding initiatives to the charter would allow the registered voters of the city to have the power to propose ordinances to the council and, if the council fails to adopt an ordinance so proposed without any change in substance, to adopt or reject it at a city election. However, the initiative power doesn't extend to the budget or capital program or any ordinance relating to the appropriation of money, levy of taxes or salaries of city officers or employees.

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