Petition questions Mayor’s ability
By LPR Staff
The petition launched last week calling for the recall of Lockhart Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram has gained both strength and steam, adding fuel to the speculation that a recall election might take place early next year.
According to Lockhart”s City Charter, any member of the Lockhart City Council, including the Mayor, can
be subject to recall “on the grounds of incompetency, official misconduct or a conviction of a felony or crime involving moral turpitude.” The charter continues to define “incompetency” as “the inability or unfitness to properly discharge the official duties of the office to which the official was elected or appointed.”
Incompetence, specifically the “inability to properly discharge the official duties of the office of Mayor by endangering the citizens of Lockhart, Texas by ignoring public opposition to and the mishandling of the downsizing of the City of Lockhart Police Department,” is the charge that the petitioners have leveled against Bertram.
“The simple fact is that the local government has chosen to ignore the public outcry of their citizens,” said Chuck Keplar, who is involved with the recall effort. “We as citizens are entitled to a voice in our own government, and if that voice is denied, our rights will have been violated by those same people we put in office to ensure that voice.”
Keplar continued to claim that public officials who choose to ignore the voice of the people should be removed from office.
Bertram takes quite another view of the recall petition, calling it a personal attack by a vocal minority.
“[It] doesn”t have a thing to do with competency or any other grounds for recall,” he said in a written statement released last week. “If making… sound, financially responsible decisions based on sound information are grounds for incompetence, then we have a big problem.”
Bertram cited as proof that the recall is part of a personal attack the fact that he alone is named on the recall petition, despite the fact that the individual holding the Mayor”s office cannot make decisions alone, but as one vote of the seven-member city council.
The recall petition was launched after the city council passed a budget approving a “reduction in force” affecting only the Lockhart Police Department. Despite public outcry at the decision, the reduction was passed.
Shortly after the police department cuts were announced, three longtime officers announced their retirement. The fourth position recommended to be cut was simply not filled, and the officer was instead added to Lockhart”s “reserve police force.”
The impending reduction of Lockhart”s police force has stirred strong emotions on both sides of the “council table.” Upon announcing that, in her estimation, there was no other option available to the council to balance the budget for this fiscal year, city manager Clovia English was nearly reduced to tears. Police Chief Frank Coggins, as well as many citizens, called the reliability of the manpower study used to justify the cuts into question. Citizens have raged at council meetings, both in support of and against the cuts.
Opposition to the reduction in force, as well as the call to reverse the decision, resounds through the community. Complaints run rampant that the city is letting three seasoned, experienced officers go.
However, whether or not the council opts to change their position, the three officers that have put in for retirement cannot return to the Lockhart Police Department. Texas Municipal Retirement System rules state that, once retired from a city, an employee may not return to work with that city, except in a part-time capacity.
The petition to recall Bertram as Mayor is the first step in a lengthy process, which, if successful, could remove him from office.
Under the city”s home-rule charter, Bertram”s opponents must collect the signatures equal to 30 percent of the number of votes cast for his office in the last election (in this case, around 400) before presenting the petition to the City Secretary, Connie Ortiz. Based on an initial date of Oct. 12, those signatures must be collected before Nov. 26, 2005.
After receiving the petition, Ortiz must present the petition to the entire council within 10 days or, if the petition is not in compliance with charter rules, return the petition to the petitioners. Afterward, Bertram may request a public hearing to defend the charges leveled against him. Finally, the council must set an election to determine whether Bertram should be recalled from office. Should the council decline to set the election, the County Judge could then be asked to set the election.
Based on a timeline derived from the Office of the Secretary of the State of Texas and Lockhart”s Home Rule Charter, that election would be held on Feb. 4, 2006.
The last time a member of Lockhart”s city council faced a recall was in 1988. Based partially on an unpopular decision to outsource a portion of Lockhart”s trash collection, a group dubbing themselves the “Good Government League” petitioned to recall then-Mayor Maxine Goodman, along with the entire city council. In that case, the petition was started in June and the case was held up in litigation until the eventual recall election in January 1989. That recall effort was unsuccessful.