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Voters rejected first document this year; Home rule option may return to ballot in 2024
Cotulla city councilors have again voted to establish a charter commission to draft a proposed document on home rule governance that will be put to voters in an upcoming election.
The move came in a vote Thursday, November 9, when councilors heard further recommendations that the city ask voters to change the way the municipality operates. Cotulla is presently listed as a general law city under the guidelines of the state of Texas. Converting the system of government to home rule, according to city officials, will give Cotulla greater autonomy in councilors’ decision making and empower the city government in its establishment and enforcement of ordinances.
Home rule government is presently conducted by the city of Pearsall, where councilors consult the city charter for their authority on setting laws and annexation.
The Cotulla City Council had agreed in 2022 to attempt putting a charter to voters, but the move was rejected at the ballot box in May this year. The charter had been drafted by the ad hoc commission that included business leaders and members with government experience.
Ten names have been put forward by the council this month, although only seven nominees will make decisions in the commission at any given time. Three alternates will take any vacant seats if nominees are unable to attend meetings.
The proposal was returned to the council agenda by Mayor Javier Garcia.
“The council has asked for a new commission,” the mayor said at the November meeting and acknowledged recommendations made recently by consultants, including the contracted company responsible for creating the city’s strategic plan for growth and economic development, and those who created the Cotulla Hazard Mitigation Plan last month.
City Attorney Steve Pena told councilors at a meeting in early 2023 that he believed the difference between a general law and a home rule city will be imperceptible to the average resident. Most city operations, he said, will continue much as they have done for decades in providing utility services and maintaining the roads, parks and other infrastructure.
“Will this commission create a new charter?” Councilor Eloy Zertuche asked at the November meeting as councilors noted the short time remaining before the next municipal election.
“They will be free to do what they choose,” the city attorney said. “They can throw the whole thing out, or they can resubmit the same one.
“Unfortunately, we are dealing with a time crunch again,” Pena added. “The election is next year, but you can wait to have one the following year.”
The charter commission will be seated at several public meetings before its final document is presented to the council for approval. Councilors will then decide whether to put the charter and the home rule proposal on the ballot at the next election.
“Hopefully you will have citizen participation,” Pena said.
The move to name a new commission was made by Councilor Tanis Lopez, seconded by Councilor Eloy Zertuche and supported by Councilors Gilbert Ayala and Manuel Rodriguez. Councilor Alejandro Garcia was absent from the meeting.