Voters to determine fate of amendments

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Election Day is November 7 and polling locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting continues through November 3. Polls are open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1 and from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Nov. 2 and 3.

All registered voters in Smith County have the choice to approve seven state constitutional amendments and a $39,500,000 Smith County bond for road and bridge improvement. Information on state amendments can be found at the League of Women Voters’ website, http://lwvtyler.org/ or in print at Whitehouse Community Library, or any Tyler public library.

Arp residents will face two additional decisions, whether to adopt a 0.5 percent sales tax rate increase and whether to approve “the legal sale of all alcoholic beverages including mixed beverages,” according to a sample ballot available on the Smith County website.

Citizens in Whitehouse will select three city council members and must decide whether to approve nine amendments to the city charter.

According to the charter, Section 12.23 charter review commission, “within every five years thereafter the Council shall appoint a charter review commission.” According to Aaron Smith, city manager in Whitehouse, the city council approved all of the recommendations of the commission which are now on the ballot for voter consideration.

“The reason, more than anything, was it takes about one year for a new council member to know how the system operates,” stated Smith, in regards to changing the two year term to three years under Proposition A. “The idea was to give people a little more time to be more effective; to create some continuity and more stability.”

Smith confirmed the purpose of Proposition E was to align elections with the three year term, if the new term is approved.

The current charter disqualifies a person for office of mayor or councilperson if “convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude (conduct that is contrary to the community standard of justice, honesty and good morals) or any other felony.” Proposition B would allow individuals to run for such offices it has been 15 years or more since the conviction of a crime of moral turpitude or non-violent felony took place.

The language of the amendment specifies “non-violent felony, qualifying it from a violent felony.” “A violent felony, if this were to pass, would still prohibit that person from being on the council,” Smith said.

The current charter states, “Should multiple Council vacancies exist simultaneously in a period earlier than ninety (90) days before a regular election, a special election shall be called.” Proposition C, if approved by voters, would allow the council to appoint qualified individuals to vacancies until the next regular election, eliminating the mandate for a special election.

“It costs about $10,000 to run an election, which is a lot of money for a city our size,” Smith noted.

Proposition D also calls for a change in language. Whereas the current charter states, “Provision shall be made I the annual budget … for a reserve in an annual amount not less than one percent but not greater than five percent of the total budget, not including the fund balance, to be used in case of unforeseen items of expenditure.”

According to Smith, the fund balance refers to assets and liabilities, whereas an unrestricted fund balance refers to cash or liquid assets. Smith equated the unrestricted fund balance to a “rainy day fund.” He also stated that the amount currently allowed by charter equates to less than a month’s worth of funds, which he stated was “irresponsible.”

Changing the language to allow for “an adequate unrestricted fund balance” would allow the city to follow Government Finance Officers Association practices according to Smith.

While Proposition F is intended to reduce and clarify verbiage within the city charter by combining Articles 8 and 9, it would also set up a petitioner’s committee according to Smith. In effect, no single citizen could present a petition to city government; but would be required to first form a petitioner’s committee. Such a committee would consist of any 10 like-minded individuals who would file their petition in accordance with procedures set forth in the city charter.

“The real reason, I think, for a petitioner’s committee is to prevent single, disgruntled individuals from causing special elections and costing the tax payers a whole lot of money,” Smith explained.

Smith stated, “state law trumps local law” and Propositions G and H would update local code and ensure the city would not be in conflict with state law.

The final proposition on the Whitehouse ballot refers to “a plan of succession regarding local governance in the event of a disaster.” In case of disaster “when a legal quorum cannot be assembled due to death or injury of council members,” the current charter requires the city “within twenty-four hours of such disaster, request the highest surviving officers of the local Chamber of commerce, the Board of Trustees of the local school district, and the County Judge of Smith County to appoint a commission to act during the emergency and call a City election within thirty days of such disaster.”

Smith pointed out a disaster of such scope may not allow for notifications of requests within 24 hours or an election within 30 days. Proposition I would eliminate the existing time frames. It would also remove the need to go through the chamber of commerce and local school board, whose members “may not reside within city limits,” said Smith, and will likely “have their own issues” in such an event.

Go to www.whitehousetx.org and under the “I Want to” tab, click “search ordinances” for the complete city charter. Visit www.smith-county.com/Government/Departments/Elections/CurrentElection.aspx to find sample ballots.

Registered voters can cast their ballots at any of the five early voting locations: R.B. Hubbard Center – Smith County Elections Office at 304 East Ferguson Street; Heritage Building, 1900 Bellwood Road; Noonday Community Center, 16662 County Road 196, all in Tyler; or at Whitehouse Municipal Court, 311 East Main Street or the Lindale Public Library, 200 East Hubbard.

Thirty-four polling places open 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. Election Day, Nov. 7. Local polls are located at Arp First Baptist Church, 304 West Front; Cameron-J. Jarvis Troup Municipal Library, 102 South Georgia Street; First Baptist Church Whitehouse, 801 East Main Street; Mt. Carmel Baptist Church 10519 FM 344 East; and Whitehouse Municipal Court, 311 East Main Street.

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