In a few years when Castle Hills is annexed into Lewisville, it could change the way that city council members are elected. Nothing in Lewisville’s city charter would prevent that area from controlling all of the seats, or conversely, having no representation.
Without comment or discussion, the Lewisville City Council voted Monday night 4-0 to put two amendments on the November election ballot. One of those would ensure proportional representation.
Currently, all of the members of the Lewisville City Council are elected at large, with no districts. Council members can reside anywhere in the city, and are elected by all of the voters in the city. All five council members and the mayor live west of Edmonds Lane and I-35E.
But if the voters approve, a residential district provision would be added to the charter that would be triggered by any annexation prior to January 1, 2023 that increases the geographic land mass of the city by at least 8 percent.
Under the proposed scheme, the city would be divided into five residential districts of roughly equal population, as determined by the 2020 or later census. Council seats would correspond to districts and the person serving would be required to reside in that district for at least six months prior to the election.
Unlike a traditional council district system, these seats would continue to be elected at large by all of the city’s voters instead of just the ones who reside in each district.
A system using residential districts would prevent any one area of the city from gaining a disproportionate share of representation.
The move carries some risk for sitting council members. Councilman TJ Gilmore said that some district lines could be drawn to include more than one current council member, or that they could possibly end up in separate districts.
The amendment contains no transitional provisions or grandfathering for current members of the council. Members would have to qualify in residential districts at their next reelection.
City Secretary Julie Heinze told The Lewisville Texan Journal that there were no definite plans yet on how the districts would be drawn, but Gilmore said that he thought the city would likely use a lawyer who understands election law, and would probably take input from council and residents.
Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Brandon Jones wrote that it was not a concern for the councilmembers whether the districts affected them personally.
“I think the voters should know that no member of the Council made this decision with the thought of saving a seat for ourselves,” Jones wrote. “We looked at the options given and we decided on what we believe will be the best option for the citizens of Lewisville, whether they have been here over 50 years or they will be new to the city when the annexation occurs.”
Another proposed amendment relates to the filling of vacancies on the city council or for the mayor. Any vacancy that occurs with less than 12 months remaining in that member’s term could be filled by the remaining members of the council, who could choose to appoint someone. The person appointed would serve out the remainder of the original term, and the election would be held at the normal time.
Prior to a state constitutional amendment passed by the voters in 2013, a city like Lewisville where council members have three-year terms could not fill a vacancy by appointment.
Vacancies can occur when a council member resigns or dies. In February of this year, Council Member Leroy Vaughn died while in office, leaving only a little over four months on his term. His seat was not filled until June. Under the current city charter, vacancies require an election be called.
In September 2011, Place 2 Council Member David Thornhill died unexpectedly while in office, leaving about nine months on his term. A special election had to be called for December to fill the remainder. Council Member Neil Ferguson was elected in that special election and then had to immediately begin his campaign for re-election in May.
“This update to our charter will also help the city avoid the expensive cost of conducting multiple elections within a few months,” wrote Jones.
Neither of the items being considered was recommended by the Charter Review Committee, which convened in the first half of 2015. The residential district plan failed by a 3-2 vote by the committee, with the group instead recommending that the council consider the structure of governance prior to any annexation of water districts within the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.
The Charter Review Committee did not discuss the procedure for filling vacancies.
The two charter amendments will go on the ballot for the Nov. 7 election, where voters will also decide on state constitutional amendments.
The author of this article served on the 2015 Lewisville Charter Review Commission.
This article has been updated to note that the item passed the City Council, and to include quotes.