Members of the public were invited to take part in an interactive discussion on the Palestine City Charter on Monday, led by City Attorney Ronald Stutes at City Hall.
During the Palestine City Council's work session held prior to their regular meeting, Stutes gave a general overview of city charters in Texas, along with information specific to the Palestine City Charter and details surrounding the legal process of revising or rewriting it.
Stutes explained that a city charter is adopted by a city's voters and operates as the “constitution” of that municipality's government. Thus, the charter establishes the governmental structure of the city and outlines the distribution of powers and duties among its branches of government.
The Palestine City Charter was created over a century ago, according to Stutes, who said the earliest recorded charter he could find was adopted by the state legislature in 1909.
“The charter says the city will exist within its current boundaries and things like that, so it's clear it existed,” he said.
Stutes said the charter divided the city into four wards and outlined basic government proceedings, such as two-year terms of election and the requirement that the city council can only take action on items per a three-quarters majority vote of its members.
Stutes said the latest version of the Palestine City Charter was adopted in 1983 — and no amendments have been made to it since.
Stutes then explained how a charter is created, interweaving pieces of history.
“In general, historically, charters were created by the legislature,” Stutes began. “The first Republic of Texas created 18 city charters, and that’s how cities were created originally.”
Stutes said the first charter was created for the City of San Augustine in 1837, which “empowered the City of San Augustine to erect any ordinance not in conflict with the laws or the Constitution of the Republic.”