Voters in May will decide whether to make climate policy part of the El Paso City Charter, whether to increase the cap on city contributions to police and fire pension funds, and if a second petition is required in citizen-led initiatives.

The proposals are among about a dozen that will go before voters during a May 6 charter amendment election after the City Council on Tuesday approved which items to place on the ballot. Early voting will be held from April 24 through May 2.

City Reps. Brian Kennedy, Alexsandra Annello, Chris Canales, Art Fierro, Isabel Salcido and Henry Rivera voted in favor of placing the proposed changes on the ballot. City Rep. Cassandra Hernandez voted against all of the recommendations. City Rep. Joe Molinar was not at the meeting.

“These practices are moving away from a council manager form of government,” Hernandez said of not supporting a proposed amendment that would take oversight of the internal auditor away from the city manager. “We’re slowly chipping away with some of these proposals.”

The climate charter amendment proposal was approved through a citizen-led petition organized by Sunrise El Paso and Austin-based Ground Game Texas, which turned in more than 39,000 voter signatures in July.

“I usually come to these meetings pretty angry, but today, I’m very happy – I’m very excited – I’m very appreciative of this body for being able to listen to the people (and) being able to listen to the…almost 40,000 signers of the climate charter,” said Miguel Escoto, an organizer with Sunrise El Paso who helped collect signatures. The signatures were verified by the City Clerk’s Office in November.

The proposed climate charter policy includes amendments that aim to reduce city emissions, invest in renewable energy and create climate jobs, establish a climate department, create a ban on the sale or transfer of city-owned water for fossil fuel industry activities, and “employ(ing) all available efforts” to convert El Paso Electric into a city-owned utility.

Here is a brief summary of other charter amendments that will be on the ballot:

  • Change the reporting structure of the chief internal auditor to be appointed and removed by, and report to, the City Council rather than the city manager; operational oversight over the internal audit function is overseen by the chair of Financial Audit and Oversight Committee; city manager implements any audit recommendations for changes to city administrative procedures and operations as requested by the council.
  • Allow city representatives to appoint and remove their district office staff
  • Authorize City Council to authorize leases of city-owned property for 40 years or less by council resolution or ordinance
  • Allow Civil Service Commission appointees to be residents of El Paso; limit how many former city employees can serve on the commission to three; prohibit from serving on the board anyone related to city employees, Public  Service Board members or any entity that operates or manages city facilities or department
  • Allow the city to establish more flexible policies in hiring employees and eliminate the exam requirement
  • Establish the city’s contribution to the Police and Fire Pension Fund to no less than 18% of the wages of the participants and remove the limit on the city’s contribution
  • Remove the requirement for a second petition in citizen-led initiatives and provide a procedure for citizens to initiate city ordinances
  • Allow City Council to reschedule meetings by resolution to allow for city holidays, but hold no less than two regular meetings per month
  • Allow the mayor to cancel a meeting if necessary due to a federal, state or local declared emergency
  • Remove obsolete references in the City Charter and align with requirements of state law

The process to review the amendments started last February when the council gave the Ad-Hoc Charter Advisory Committee a list of proposals that were vetted through various public meetings. Some did not make the final cut approved Tuesday.

Those included an effort to eliminate the mayor’s veto and tie-breaking power. The change would have allowed the mayor to vote on every agenda item instead of voting only to break tie votes.

The recommendation to change the term limits for city representatives also failed to gain support. The measure would have eliminated the current 10-year cap if a representative is elected to fill an unexpired four-year term. The City Charter now states that no mayor or representative may hold office for more than 10 years throughout their lifetime. The current time limit has been in place since 2004.

An effort proposed on Jan. 24 to allow voters to decide whether the El Paso police and fire chiefs should report to the City Council instead of the city manager initially passed during the meeting, but was retracted by the council on the same day.

The city plans to schedule community meetings and informational sessions regarding the proposed changes through April. Dates for the meetings were not immediately available.

The council addresses possible charter amendments every two years, but its last attempt in 2020 was scrapped after the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread in the community. The last time the City Charter was amended was in 2018.

Disclosure: El Paso Electric Co. is financial supporter of El Paso Matters. Financial supporters play no role in El Paso Matters’ journalism.

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...