City charter amendments address petition requirements

In this year's city election, there are, among other things, a total of 21 proposed changes to Amarillo's 100 year-old city charter. Two of those changes address petition and referendum requirements - and while the city says the proposals are meant to simplify and standardize the process, some citizens are saying enacting those proposals would infringe upon their rights.

Propositions 15 and 21 would address time limits and signature requirements for petitioning the city government. The current required number of signatures on a petition is 25 percent of Amarillo voters who participated in the most recent election.

Proposition 21 would change that requirement to five percent of registered voters in the city. For illustrative purposes, in the most recent city election last May, there were 98,644 registered voters within Amarillo - so five percent of that would be 4,932.

Some residents, like Bill Sumerford, argue the number of required signatures should continue to be based on the number of people who actually voted in the previous election.

"If you have voter participation rates that are low, petition referendum signatures should also be low to reflect the low amount of active, involved citizens that actually go to the polls," says Sumerford.

The rationale behind basing it on the total registered voting population is that the number of people who vote in Amarillo varies widely from year to year, which can complicate the process.

"The number of registered voters varies very little; it's a fairly stable number," explains City Attorney Marcus Norris, "It's not influenced by whether you have a controversial item on a ballot or a boring ballot. So it's a more stable, predictable number: 5 percent of registered voters."

And Proposition 15 would set a time limit for petitions to 120 days. There is currently no time limit for petitions in the charter, but state law says signatures expire after 180 days.

"Currently, you can have a petition out for an endless number of months. As long as you're continuing to gather signatures to make up for the ones that state law is expiring, then under our charter, it goes on forever."

Along with the 21 propositions, this year's ballot includes nine proposed amendments to the Texas state constitution, and the $31.5 million dollar bond election for the proposed Amarillo Recreation Complex (ARC) in southeast Amarillo.

Early voting started Monday, October 21st, and runs through Friday, November 1st. The regular election will be held on Tuesday, November 5th.

If you'd like a closer look at everything you'll find on the ballot, along with polling places, follow the links attached to this story.