Hewitt: Council member removal process proposed in charter review

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HEWITT, Texas (KWTX) A pair of McLennan County cities are considering putting more power in the hands of elected officials to govern themselves.

The Hewitt City Council discussed proposed changes to the city charter Monday night. (Photo by Rissa Shaw)

The cities of Robinson and Hewitt are seeking charter revisions: Hewitt's charter hasn't been formally changed since it became a home-rule city back in 1982.

"It's never undergone any revision or amendments since that time," said City Manager Bo Thomas.

The Hewitt city council started discussions Monday night about modernizing the document to fit the city's current needs.

"Mainly we are looking at areas where we have conflicts with one existing law or two operational conflicts," said Thomas.

In addition to grammar and language updates, City Attorney Mike Dixon, who holds the same position in Robinson and several other local cities, is proposing a charter with updates to purchasing policies and elections including looser guidelines on council-approved purchases and stricter council requirements on residency and behavior.

"Currently, anything over $3,000 has to go to council, and anything that exceeds $1,000 has to be put up for bid," said Thomas. "The utility bill runs more than that for the city--do you want to bring in the electric bill each month and have the council authorize it? I don't really think that's what was intended here."

Thomas says the residency requirements for elected officials are also under review.

"You have to own a home in Hewitt to be on the planning or zoning commission, but we don't have that same requirement on a city counselor," said Thomas.

The proposed charter also allows for a majority vote to kick someone off the council under certain circumstances.

"Grounds for removal are: Habitual failure to attend council meetings, whether or not consecutive; conviction of a crime involving moral tuprtitude; intentionally engaging in conduct intended to harm the city or disrupt its operations; continued excessive interference with administration after a formal warning fro the council; self-dealing to the detriment of the city; or any ground for removal provided by law for general cities," the proposal states.

"It's something I think every city should have," said Dixon. "Hewitt has no recourse when a council member does something really bad."

For more than a year starting in May of 2018, drama enveloped the City of Hewitt after two women who worked for the city lodged harassment complaints against then-Mayor Ed Passalugo and councilman Kurt Krakowian. The allegations resulted in multiple lawsuits and separation agreements, however, there was no real recourse against the councilmen involved other than a special election.

"I think the idea behind that is, the current city charter only authorized the ability to remove a member of council based on a recall effort," said Thomas. "There's really no outlined process for a public censor or the majority of council to tell a member of council 'hey, we don't want that activity, please cease in terms of that activity,' and if there's a continuance, having a process to be able to remove that person from office."

Thomas says proposals like this are put in place to make a city council a title more cohesive.

"A difference of opinion is healthy, but it's how you go about executing it that's important," said Thomas. "I'm not saying this is a direct relationship to what may or may not have happened in the past in Hewitt, but I do think this is something that you're going to be seeing moving forward in local government so that there's some type of process a council has to govern itself."

Thomas says the proposed charter revision would give the council a way to clean-house without having to do a costly special election.

"When you have a member of the council who is being obstructionist, not doing things in the best interest of the city, interfering with administration, then it's the council that has the ability to govern itself," he said.

The revised charter proposal was "just a first-draft" city officials said, promising many future council discussions, public hearings, and possibly the formation of a charter committee, before it would be voted on by Hewitt citizens, possibly on the November ballot.

"We are just scratching the surface on identifying the items that potentially need to be changed," said Thomas. "We're still quite a bit away from a complete charter review."